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How many digital transformation advocates does it take to change a lightbulb?

Road to the horizon

Digital transformation is in part about understanding your customer's pain points and eliminating them. Technology without empathy for your customers is worthless. To illustrate this, let's take a look at a recent real-life experience for residents of a Californian townhouse community.

A property of apartments, condominiums, or townhouses has shared common areas with all sorts of lighting: outside the homes, lighting paths, entryways, drives and internal roads. Light bulbs inevitably expire at random and need to be replaced in a timely and cost effective manner.

Residents are generally discouraged from attending to common area maintenance for all sorts of legal and liability issues, so a simple fix becomes not so simple. Replacement parts need to be identified and purchased efficiently, preferably at discounted bulk rates. You need to know the locations of lights and have a means for identifying which need to be replaced. You need record keeping, tracking what lights have been replaced and when. Ideally, you'd like to batch maintenance service calls into a single visit to save community funds.

So a very simple interview question to ask a prospective property management company is “How do you change a light bulb?”

When it comes to digital transformation, this question is brilliant in its simplicity and in the amount it reveals about a company's customer focus, the state of its digital capabilities, and its overall efficiencies.

It's not easy to answer unless, as a management company, you’ve already given it some thought and put systems into place. Without them, customers — the residents or homeowners association (HOA) members — get frustrated as to why a simple thing can't be fixed in a timely manner.

Here's the response the townhouse community's HOA board recently received from its management company to an ongoing issue of bulb replacement: “Our rules state that we go out and look round, and then we will charge, per hour, to get the project done. Either you let us know what needs replacing and we find the bulbs and come out, or we go out and investigate, order, and then go back out and the charge is much more. Please choose your option.”

The management company saw this as an issue of customer responsibility, rather than recognizing a pain point and providing solutions. It's a missed opportunity in providing excellent consumer care and reaping the benefits of a happy customer. After all, it routinely asks its customers to serve as a reference for new prospective clients!

Digital transformation starts with the simplest of basics, all based on reducing this kind of frustration. Here are some obvious points:

  • A company should be good at scaling solutions to problems common across all their clients.
  • Reports from frustrated customers is data to identify friction and inefficiencies. While it may be painful, it is an insight into customer sentiment to be exploited for better business good. Swallow your pride, identify the inefficiencies, and fix them.
  • Identify how technology can make the solution scale, reducing costs to your business and your customers.

So how many digital transformation advocates does it take to change a lightbulb? For the townhouse community, it was as simple as managing asset spreadsheets/databases, online reporting forms, and online property maps (though the HOA board had to suggest this to the management company, thus solving its own problems). Outside of this example, solutions can be as advanced as leveraging IoT systems for automatic asset problem reporting.

New technology tools should be used to drive your ability to delight your customer rather than as ends in themselves. Technology should be driven by your company's recognition of the value in change to provide solutions that put you a step ahead of the competition.

If your customers are more aware of transformative processes than you are, chances are they'll go elsewhere.