News & Views

Culture shock

by Contagious Contributor

Wunderman's global CMO, Jamie Gutfreund, explains how companies must change their internal culture to keep up with the pace of technological change 

Most leaders think their companies are prepared for the future, but the reality is that most of them aren’t investing enough in long-term plans for digital transformation.

This disconnect was on display in Wunderman’s recent global study of 250 business decision makers, which found that while 72% of respondents say they are future focused and willing to invest in new technologies, roughly the same number (70%) say they aren’t willing to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term benefits.

The problem is that too many companies expect to be able to buy digital transformation out of the box, as if it were a quick software upgrade, but that approach is backward. Digital transformation is human transformation, and true transformation cannot happen without changing company culture for the long term.



Too often, companies are solely focused on reacting to change and/or looking for solutions to challenges from the outside, when they should be focused on their own culture and embracing change from within. Einstein said famously that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In this marketplace, my definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.

The best strategy in the world means nothing unless it’s integrated into every layer of the company, from the CEO to point-of-sale and every person in between. The first step towards digital transformation isn’t buying new software: it is for a company to identify what kind of experience it wants customers to have and the key performance indicators that will be used to measure success. It’s critical that everybody (not just marketing and HR) agree on both; without universal buy-in, it’s unlikely that the strategy can be fully implemented and that goals will be met.

One of the primary challenges to both the customer experience and transforming company culture is that most companies are set up vertically with each department or division in its own silo. The problem is, customers experience companies horizontally. When they walk into a retail outlet after calling customer service five times, it's frustrating to have to explain the issue all over again to the clerk at point-of-sale. Too often, silos that keep different departments from sharing information internally also create a fragmented external customer experience.

The idea of silos as a functional innovation killer is not revolutionary, but our study’s findings highlight the degree to which they impact companies’ relationships with customers. A full 73% of respondents said their company is 'very or somewhat siloed,' and when asked to what extent siloes impact cohesive messaging, a whopping 89% answered, 'a great deal or somewhat.' So, siloes are barriers internally (cohesive messaging) and externally (customer experience).

But, with leadership and a very clear mission, it’s possible to break through the barriers. In January, T-Mobile received the highest-ever industry scores among full-service providers in the 2018 J.D. Power U.S. Wireless Customer Care Performance Study. The company achieved this milestone by becoming customer obsessed and communicating a clear vision to every single person, from the CEO down.



A critical component of digital transformation is ensuring that people throughout the company understand why the technology is there, how to use it, and how best to benefit from it. Technology without the ability to use it is pointless - it’s like having a shiny new Ferrari in the garage but not knowing how to drive it. That’s why when T-Mobile was ready to roll out a new sales platform, it included an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that could walk retail employees through the steps of the sales process and address any pain points around using the new system.

WalkMe helped smooth the transition and, as a bonus, served as a test case for AI tech that could later be rolled out to customers. The new sales platforms, by the way, give employees access to customer information that was formerly siloed, empowering them to use data to solve customers’ problems. The key here is that the tech is in service to people - not the other way around.

The goal is to bring creative, data and technology together to give the customer the desired experience. And that means being proactive. Rather than viewing change as an obstacle to be overcome, successful companies - those on their way to becoming Future Ready - initiate and embrace change. They understand that it’s impossible to predict the future, but it’s very possible and necessary to prepare for it. And all that starts with changing culture.

Illustrations by Ryan Quickfall