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Business Transformation

Innovating innovation

Steve Towers
Aug 31
10-11 mins

Table of contents

Key takeawaysCollaboration platforms are essential to the new way of workingEmployees prefer engati over emailEmployees play a growing part in software purchasing decisionsThe future of work is collaborativeMethodology


Steve Towers joins us on the Engati CX Show to talk about innovating innovation.

He has founded over a dozen companies and associations. Steve coined the term BPM, back in 1992 when he built the first global BPM community. After conducting a series of workshops and lectures, in 1996, he finally launched the world's first BPM Training course.  

Steve then went on to author “Outside-In: the secret of the 21st centuries leading companies,” often referred to as a “manifesto for business transformation” according to Amazon. He also co-authored many other best-selling books like The Process Tactics Playbook, Foundations for Customer Centricity, and DARE (coming soon!).

He was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for contribution to Business at Gartner's Annual Summit in 2007. Steve now frequently chairs and keynotes the major conferences and acts as an advisor to global leadership teams of several leading companies.

Interview with Steve Towers

Ps. If you’d rather listen to the interview as a podcast, our Spotify podcast is embedded below the transcript.


You talk of innovating innovation - which is a very interesting phrase. How would you describe the concept to our viewers?

Okay, many of us are being drained in innovation in different ways. So, design, thinking, processes and things like that. Of course, we apply that sort of innovation thinking into our organizations. The challenge for many organisations is that the structures that they've got that deliver their business at the moment were never designed to meet the challenges of the third decade of the 21st century.

And so, as a consequence, when we were looking, what is the next practice of the companies we all know respect around the world, the Amazons, the Zaras, the Apples, there's other people. How do they innovate? Can we codify that as a practice?  

So that sets up on this track of let's try and innovate innovation. So that's the phraseology. And basically, what it says is, ‘Look, we're not trying to necessarily improve what we're doing at the moment. We're trying to identify what is the customer need? How can we best align to achieve it and what are the components of achieving that need?’

So if you're distilling it down, what is innovated innovation? It's a way of stripping away all the noise, all the complexity, looking at the bare bones of an experience or process and by innovating around that, you transform everything else.  

So it’s an exciting approach. It’s something I love working with organizations to do. Because, of course, they get so many benefits from it that previously we couldn't get through our standard innovation approaches.  


Has customer behavior changed in the pandemic? What would you advise companies that need to align to the new normal or the new abnormal and what would the future hold for customer experience?

Of course, the pandemic has changed all our lives, and some of that, you know, has been of great benefit. You know, it's brought forward things that should have been happening in organizations years ago. So I like to look on the silver lining part the cloud.  

But in terms of customer behaviors changing, its caused us customers, particularly in lock down scenarios, to do a lot more research about the companies that were buying services from it's also caused B2Bs to challenge themselves in terms of thinking about how should supply chain logistics and things like that work.  

Ultimately, what drives everything any organization does is the customer. So I I'm finding that the focus on the real needs of the customer, not the wants, but the real needs of the customer; they're getting front and center across so many different organizations now simply because it’s a question of survival.  

It's not a question of, ‘Oh, let's do that cause it's an interesting thing to do and it's the next phase’. It's like, ‘How do we get ourselves out of this hole that the pandemic put us in? What do we need to do?’  

Customers want choice. They're very promiscuous in exercising that choice. They also want to have very high expectations met. And so what we see, for instance, is expectations are informed. Say I go to the bank. I'm not contrasting my bank with another bank. I'm contrasting my bank with service I got when I last flew on Emirates. Why can’t the banking service be like that?  

So we have these customers now, and I think Apple coined a good phrase a few years ago was that customers have become ‘prosumers’. So it's not now whether we're in a B2C situation or a B2B. One of my colleagues talks about how there's nobody in the B2B anymore. You’re either a B2B2B2C or you're a direct B2C.  

So I like to think that the enlightened customer is informing all our decisions and that idea that we, as organizations were delivering services and products to them, really have to get beyond asking customers, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ to actually figuring out what the right thing is and delivering that.


Organizations grapple with a lot of directional advise for setting up culture, be customer centric, be employee centric, be business centric since there are no employees and no customers without business. What is your view of how organizations should approach these as priorities for decision making?

Once again, this is based on sort of codification. The next practice is really to think about this, ‘If we don't have happy employees, then we're not going to have happy customers’.  

Richard Branson, the Virgin CEO, runs 400 companies globally. Even through the crisis, finding ways to navigate that he knows if he can't keep his people, with the right tools and the right techniques and the capabilities to be able to deliver, then it's all just words. You've actually got to be able to walk that talk.  

So I see the organization's almost progressive, and I think of people we all know across social media people like, you know, Zapos and it's quite a good response when people say, ‘Yeah, but we're not a shoe retailer’. You go, ‘Yeah, but they're not shoe retailer. First and foremost, that's the product they've chosen to deliver to market on the way they do that, the way they structure themselves, they you know that the whoa factor and so on is we can all learn from that’.

Doesn't matter what industry in if we're not engaging our employees to be successful in their own right and be happy, be content and, you know, want to whether it's attend work virtually are attend work in teams or whatever. Which way we're doing it. We've got to see to that first. That's the first thing you know, in order to put our customers first, we need to put our employees first.


What role do you see emerging tech like AI and automation play in the organizational context?

Okay, well, you probably seen as part of my history, I was Director of Technology for one particular large US bank and it was always the case of the bright shiny boxes syndrome.  

You know that the technologies wanted to bring those into business. One of the things we saw in the early days of BPM was BPM getting railroaded into the software side of things rather than the organizational transformation.  

Have things changed in the last 30 years? I'd like to think so, but to a very large extent, there are organizations who are automating the mess and they end up with an automated mess. So I sort of cry from the hilltops saying, ‘Look, figure out what the right thing to do is for your customer first and then automate it’.

Otherwise you'll end up in that situation, as I used to sometimes; the automation itself would get blamed for the failure of something. When that isn't the root cause. Automation is fantastic.

The digital side of customer experience is so powerful. But if we're automating a mess, we just end up with an automated mess.  

Why does that happen? Well, we empower our sales guys and our marketing organizations to go out there and sell our products and services. If we're in the I T space. If they do a really good job, they could end up doing that, automating the mess people have got.  

So I always say, whether it's big enterprise systems or whether it's bringing in RPA or chatbots, whatever is when we're engaging around those technologies, make sure they're aligned with a successful customer outcome, then you won't fail, and you will be seen as the local heroes.


Do you see a lot of customers being served by a push to self-service, automation chatbots, or intelligence querying through voice and other enabling means?

I really think it depends on customer needs. All too often there's that cry of technology for the sake of it. So let's lets automate these processes.  

And yet at a very simple level, we all know the frustration of getting caught in a call center que. ‘Your call is very important to us. You’re number 26 in the queue.’ Well, the two things don't go together, do they? So there's a levels of automation which actually get in the way of delivering a successful customer outcome.  

But when its applied in the right way, so we’ve articulated the successful customer out from what the real needs are, we can then put automation on steroids to actually deliver against that need.  

If you've got enlightened customers, the way enlightened customers consume, the services and products from organization depends on the channel they're moving across. So what might work in terms off, you know, say, working on my smartphone contrasted with working on the laptop, contrasting with accessing things for the TV, I don't want the same interaction. I want something that's designed for that environment.  

So I think there's a place, you know, I'm a techie at heart, that claim with new technologies and things like that. But it also gets a bad name because of that pervasion of some of the messages that have been automated. So I try to find those case studies. Those organizations that have really used it well and then use those as demonstrations that if we get this customer bit right, first the successful customer outcome, then you're aligned everything you're doing to delivering it and that’s your people, your processes, your I t your digital capability right the way through to that end result for the customer, you won't go too far wrong.


Customers are increasingly global, connected, mobile and 24x7 as businesses move online. How would an organization create enablers to ensure one size fits all in such a varied client base?

You've got common needs around the planet. It doesn't matter where you are, what ethnicity, what cultural set up, You know whether you’re in the north, south, east, west; first world, second or third world; there are common needs that we all have and understanding what those common needs are can enable you to produce the technology which can traverse all those different places at the same time.

There’s certain areas which we would say are more progressive or more mature, and then they could use, you know, most sophisticated level of technology. But there's no need to differentiate it in the way that some people are dumb in terms of their own geographies around the planet. It’s again the articulation of a need of customer.  

The way I like to think about that again, that phrase outside in is, if we categorize customers by need rather than segment than by circumstance; segmented by circumstance. For instance, would treat India different to China, different to the US, different to Australia, different to Europe and yet the needs across those domains may well be the same.  

So if we categorize the customers by need and then align our technologies to deliver against that need, it doesn't matter what language we’re speaking. The technology will enable us to be able to get that service and product in a better way as a customer.

So we can take IT as a great leveler. Where segmentation used to look at it from the point of view of OK, this segment of customers is different to that segment because they live in a different place. They've got a different meaning, different familial backgrounds.  

But if we categorize on need, we all need food and water. We'll need shoes. We all need a roof over our heads. We can categorize all those customers by those same needs and then deliver products and services, which deliver that. So I think that's a big change as well that I see in those more mature outside-in organizations.  


Do you have any other thoughts that you’d like to leave our audience with?

I think after I've already banged that drum in terms of, regardless of what business or what you doing, whether you're one person band or whether you're the CEO of the largest enterprise on the planet; there's lessons we can all learn from each other.  

Now I refer to those lessons as next practice. So you'll see a lot of the things that I talk about are around codifying that next practice and giving access for people to it.  

So look beyond the you know, the shiny boxes and look beyond the claims of just getting another certification and look to learn from those people of actually being there and done it in the sense of, they've already done the transformation.  

You know, if you look at companies like Amazon and everyone goes ‘ Oh Steve, we're not in Amazon. Stop talking about Amazon.’ Well, Jeff Bezos. He ran a bookshop. He's now the richest guy on the planet. Do you think there's something to learn from that? It's our idea of customer experience with customer obsession. It's something we could all take learning from. So if I was to leave people with just a thought, it's that we could all be that Jeff Bezos in our own world. We can all fly that flag and show what it is like to become customer obsessed rather than internally obsessed.

Check out the 200 CX Thought Leaders to follow in 2021!


Steve Towers

Business entrepreneur Steve Towers has founded over a dozen companies and associations.

A visionary who coined the term BPM, back in 1992 when he built the first global BPM community. After conducting a series of workshops and lectures, in 1996, he finally launched the world's first BPM Training course.

He then went on to author “Outside-In: the secret of the 21st centuries leading companies,” often referred to as a “manifesto for business transformation” according to Amazon. He also co-authored many other best-selling books like The Process Tactics Playbook, Foundations for Customer Centricity, and DARE (coming soon!).

Andy is the Co-Founder and CIO of SwissCognitive - The Global AI Hub. He’s also the President of the Swiss IT Leadership Forum.

Andy is a digital enterprise leader and is transforming business strategies keeping the best interests of shareholders, customers, and employees in mind.

Follow him for your daily dose of AI news and thoughts on using AI to improve your business.

Catch our interview with Andy on AI in daily life

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