transformationMany marketers talk “transformation” but fewer can deliver it – or even define it. Look beneath the covers, and what sounds so impressive turns out to be only incremental cost-cutting.

But one recent case study I wrote for a global professional services company got me thinking of the “T” word. The reason: The “transformation” we described delivered substantial, ongoing improvements as well as permanent changes in how their customer operated.

Angle One: Beyond Cost-Cutting

That customer was a major telecommunications provider with hundreds of applications and tens of thousands of servers and databases. It was looking for a new outsourcer to take over and improve its operations, cut its operating costs by at least 30% and reduce the number of service outages and the delays in fixing them.

What makes this “transformation: The goals went beyond just reducing the costs of normal IT operations. The customer wanted fundamental change and improvement in the quality of service the business providers its customers.  

Angle Two: Working Differently

The customer’s goals included overhauling many of its internal processes. This included improving communications among its internal and external support staff, increased consistency among their support processes and establishing and enforcing service level agreements (SLAs). The customer also wanted its support group to be able to scale up the amount and type of services it provides. On the measurement side, the customer needed to assess the outsourcer’s work by its impact on the business, not just IT. One example: The ability to easily ramp up infrastructure to meet the traffic needs of big revenue-generating events such as major league games or concerts.

What makes it “transformation?” Making permanent, significant changes in internal work processes, not just doing the same old things a bit more quickly or inexpensively.

Angle Three: Ongoing Benefits

The customer wanted the service provider to do 15 percent more work while reducing costs by 15 percent each year. The service provider is achieving this through, among other things, increased automation of IT processes and shifting from a traditional time and material model to managed services linked to business needs.  The service provider also has a road map for taking on the support of additional systems, is broadening its SLAs to cover additional metrics, and training first-level service teams to handle more problems.

What makes it “transformation?” Improvements that keep giving over time, not just a one-time cost or performance boost.

Uncovering the “Transformative” Angles

In working with clients or your internal subject matter experts, try these questions to better uncover how you’re doing “transformation” for your white papers, case studies and other collateral.

  • How are we permanently changing our customer’s systems or processes for the better?
  • How will our product and services deliver ongoing (not just one-time) benefits for the customer?
  •  What is fundamentally new and different for the customer after the implementation of our product or service?
  •  Draw “before” and “after” pictures of the customer’s systems, processes or business structure to show what you’ve changed. If you don’t see much difference between the two, make sure you’ve captured all the real changes by re-asking the questions above.

And finally, if it ain’t transformation, don’t pretend it is. As Gartner noted several years ago, transformation can sour outsourcing deals by leading customers to expect more than they’re really getting.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Making Health Insurance “Digital”  

digital health insurance

Spring brings two painful ordeals. One is doing my taxes, where software can at least help ease the agony.  The other is choosing a health insurance plan, from a provider that seems never to have heard of the “digital” revolution.

Among the many loose definitions I’ve seen of the “D” word in my work with clients are:

  • Putting the customer first
  • Making products and services easy, and even delightful, to buy and use.
  • Customizing products and services, using Big Data to understand and even anticipate each customer’s needs.
  • Being mobile-first, or at least mobile friendly.

So 1980s

Compared to this lofty vision, what do I get from my insurer every year? A thick wad of paper (not even an email notification it’s coming) full of dense charts, impenetrable jargon, and confusing pricing options. The only “personalization” is their recommendation of a replacement of my current plan, which is being discontinued.) The new plan is close to 20% pricier than my current plan, and is about the level of a modest mortgage. But there’s no guidance on what I’m getting for the extra money or how this compares to my current plan. There are several pages of “mapping” diagrams to compare the insurer’s former and current plans, but it’s a year since I’ve signed up and neither my insurance card nor my bill have the name of the specific plan I’m now enrolled in.

And despite the fact I have, for at least 15 years, purchased only individual plans, the insurer makes me sift through four pricing levels for each of their new plans: for an individual, a spouse, a child and a family. It’s just another level of confusion about a decision (“How sick or injured will I be in the next year?”) that I’m not very qualified to make.

It’s also not very insightful or customized, in an era when Netflix can track which Doc Martin re-run I last binge-watched, and Amazon recommends stuff for me to buy based not only on my purchases, but my browsing history, and the purchase and browsing history of millions of others.

This seems like a process, and an industry, ripe for takeover by someone that could harness Big Data, real-time customization and a friendly user interface to make health insurance comprehensible and truly customized. (Note to health care CEOs: I, and a lot of other folks, would probably pay a modest premium just for the peace of mind of knowing what we’re buying. Just think, also, what simplifying the process would do for your back-office administrative and customer service reps.

So what would a “digital” health insurance purchase process look like?

Personal, Customized, Easy

  • Make online the default, and easiest to use, channel for information about plans and the process of choosing one.
  • Provide instant chat with a rep who can view my account and medical history without endless authentication and approval processes.
  • Use Big Data analysis of individual purchase behavior and health, as well as of others in their cohort, to recommend a plan on each customer’s historic health care consumption and scenarios (low, medium and high probability) of care needed in the next year.
  • To make it even more customized and interactive, provide cost estimates reflecting the customer’s most recent activity. (“Based on our experience with patients with your age and symptoms, there’s a 20% chance that shoulder pain you saw us about last week will require surgery rather than ice and Tylenol. If so, here’s the projected out-of-pocket cost under each of our three recommended plans.)
  • Tailor benefits to each customer’s needs and histories. Don’t tout your smoking cessation programs if you know I haven’t smoked in 30 years, or offer me a low-cost health club membership if you just gave me a discount for installing a home gym.
  • Speaking of home gyms, why not give me a one-click option to link my smartphone pedometer to your fitness-tracking program and give me a monthly discount on my premium based on my exercise level?

In industry after industry, disruptors are blowing away old-school competitors by providing easier to use products and services that save customers money. As a totally disgruntled (can you tell?)  health insurance customer, I’m ripe for being disrupted right out of my current provider.

Any contenders out there?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Overusing “Transformation”

transformation marketing

Transformation, or just flabby marketing?

Everywhere from interior decorating to education to healthcare, everyone’s claiming they deliver “transformation.”

But when it comes to  selling information technology and services, is the “T” word an effective value promise, or a vague buzzword that sets both the buyer and seller up for trouble?

I’m curious to hear from other marketers about how your customers respond to the term, and whether it helps deliver more and better prospects.

Definition, Please

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the primary definition of “transform” is “to change the form of; to change into another shape or form; to metamorphose,” with a secondary definition of “to change in character or condition; to alter in function or nature.” (Emphasis added.)

It is this second definition I think most people assume, and that gets marketers into trouble. It implies not incremental improvement but a fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that lasts.

Consider the idea of a “transformational” president. Franklin Roosevelt made the cut in the 1930s, some argue, by changing “the basic assumptions of national politics for a generation or more” in favor of a greater role for the federal government. You could argue Ronald Reagan was “transformational” in the opposite direction. Whatever your politics, both changes met the “transformational” criteria of being fundamental, wide ranging and lasting.

In a totally different vein, “Transformational Weight Loss” implies (and it seems the author tries to deliver) lasting improvement loss through fundamental, wide-ranging changes in lifestyle and attitude, not just in diet.

Transformation that doesn’t make the cut, I’d argue, is the South Carolina Department of Public Education’s “Office of School Transformation” whose goal is “to change the structure of schools to better serve students.” Their Web site seems to promise only tweaks to improve existing processes. Useful and valuable perhaps, but not transformation.

Are We Overselling “Transformation?”

In my own IT field, respected researcher Gartner advised outsourcing firms to ban the use of both  “transformation” and “innovation” because “they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”  For example, Gartner said, an outsourcer might lose money trying to solve problems it never agreed to tackle, while the customer wastes time and effort without achieving their goals. Or, “a customer might choose the lowest-priced provider and be left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.”

For what it’s worth, my small survey of PR and marketing respondents showed 40 percent agreed that transformation is a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believed marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers use transformation as a synonym for “improve.”

In your experience, do customers get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the word “transformation” and click through to learn more? Or do they drop out of the sales funnel (or complain after the purchase) when they find transformation has been oversold?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

I try to steer my clients from vague buzzwords such as “transformation” in content marketing because they confuse customers rather than engage them. Now, no less an authority than industry guru Gartner is warning that using the word “transformation” in contract negotiations can also  foul outsourcing deals by raising false expectations among customers.

The warning came in Gartner’s June 2011 Magic Quadrant ranking of finance and accounting (F&A) outsourcing providers as it advised to “Ban the words `innovation’ and `transformation’ because they will only lead to misaligned expectations.”

Specifically, the Gartner report said, it can lead the customer to believe “`…my service provider is all-knowing and can fix everything.’” Imagine, for example, a customer who’s been unable to reduce costs or understand a new market due to internal cultural and organizational problems. An outsourcer comes in promising to “transform” their organization and runs afoul of those same problems. The outsourcer loses money trying to solve problems it never signed up to tackle in the first place, and the customer has wasted time and effort without achieving their goals.

Another scenario Gartner mentioned involves the customer choosing the lowest-price provider and  “left wondering where the innovation and transformation are.” Innovation and “transformation” require understanding where a business is now and where it needs to be. That’s why, Gartner advises baselining the current state of affairs and not hoping the outsourcer “will solve all the internal process issues, which may never have been addressed internally.”

Using “Transformation” in Content Marketing

This confusion is mirrored in the results of my ongoing online survey which shows 40 percent of respondents agree with my “gut” definition that transformation means a “fundamental, wide-ranging improvement that will last over time.” But a third believe marketers just throw the word around without thinking, and 22 percent said marketers just use transformation in their copywriting as a synonym for “improve.” Hence the confusion when an outsourcer is using “transform” to mean just a lower price, while the customer is expecting a radical makeover

One simple way to avoid trouble in content marketing – and to set yourself apart from the hordes throwing around the “transform” buzzword – is to insert the word “by” after the word “transform” and explain specifically what you will do, how you will do it, and the specific business benefits you’ll deliver.

Examples:

  • We will transform your accounts payable by performing all transactions on our cloud-based platform, analyzing all payments with our proprietary algorithms to detect waste and fraud, and shifting any manual processing such as troubleshooting to our offshore staff. We commit to permanently reducing processing costs by at least 36% and waste and fraud losses by at least 23%. Reducing payment times by one week will also allow you to recover 10% early payment discounts from your vendors.
  • We will transform your IT infrastructure by shifting peak loads and Web-facing systems to our lower-cost cloud, managing remaining internal systems with our offshore remote management staff and remotely testing applications. This will permanently reduce your  capital budget by 60%, your operating budget by 60% and time to market for new applications by one month. Future work shifting will, within five years, allow you to devote 50% of your IT spending to new initiatives versus only 20% now.
  • We will transform your customer service by surveying current and past customers to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and comparing your costs, service levels and customer satisfaction levels to other clients with whom we have worked. We will design, implement and monitor the organizational and cultural changes required to meet your strategic goal of permanently becoming the top-ranked vendor in your industry for customer service.

In each case, everything after the word “by” explains what you mean by “transformation” and how you will achieve it. While Gartner focused on outsourcing, describing “transformation” in any content marketing clearly leaves  much less room for confusion, and much more compelling content to attract and keep customers. Let me know how you’re hearing “transformation” used and misused in content marketing.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Now, THAT's What I Call Transformation

All of a sudden, “transformation” seems to be cropping up in messaging from my clients and elsewhere in the IT marketing world. Transformation is suddenly something we all need to do to become thin and happy and rich and sexy. There’s even a Business Transformation Institute, an Army Office of Business Transformation and, of course, consulting firms with business transformation practices.

Why “transformation,” and why now? It isn’t because of a sudden upsurge in interest in those great toys. It’s because everyone is finally convinced we’re past our near-death experience during the recession and will, indeed, live to earn another buck. But so much has changed (higher unemployment, ongoing economic uncertainty, global offshoring, MidEast unrest) we feel we need to change, too, so we can survive. If you have no clue how to change, just say you’re transforming and maybe everyone will get it and things will turn out OK.

Or not. If you just throw out “transformation” without explanation you’ll leave your prospects more confused than ever. Here are three hurdles you must cross if you really want to claim “transformation.”

Define what you’re transforming from and to. What specifically were you before that was bad, ugly, stupid, slow,and inefficient? What specifically are you becoming that is good, attractive, smart, fast and efficient?

Show how transformation will help your target audience. If an airline is transforming its gate areas, show me the comfortable seats with power outlets and free Wi-Fi. If you’re transforming enterprise architecture software, show me the new visualizations that will make sense to business managers. If you’re transforming order entry for a telecom, show me how it will speed provisioning a new account.

And finally, don’t claim you’re transforming if you’re only tweaking. The dictionary says “transform” can mean “to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance or to change in character or condition.” But when I hear transformation I think of a complete makeover from one thing into another,, as when a toy turns from a ’75 Camaro into a robot. Can you do that? Do you want to do that?

Based on my years of watching IT and business, I say be careful about promising “transformation.” You can’t just take a product, or an organization, twist a few plastic components and turn a door into a shield, an engine into a face and fenders into feet. If you’ve really have delivered transformation, prove it with specifics and examples. And if you’re not sure you’ve really done the T-word, get an outsider to cast a skeptical eye on it before going public.

Bob Scheier, a veteran IT technology journalist and marketing copywriter, is available for skeptical glances at just about anything.

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.