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Five tips to make digital transformation work

Published 11 January 2024 in Strategy • 6 min read

All too many digital transformation projects fail to deliver on the commitments made in the business case. But thanks to a “launch and listen” approach, Shell has broken the mold when it implements a new digital product.

A lot of time and money goes into digital projects, the vast majority of which is often wasted. Many digital transformation projects fail altogether.

It is impossible to have any interaction with a supplier or a vendor without having your satisfaction as a customer assessed. Just think about the volume of survey emails you received the last time you booked a hotel room.

Very rarely do companies measure employee satisfaction in the same ongoing, continuous way. I am not a digital native, but in 2018 when I started in my current role to digitize Shell’s customer backbone, I did so with a fresh pair of eyes. I realized that many companies struggle with digital initiatives because they don’t listen to what users think about the digital tools they’ve been given.

What tends to happen is the company sees an opportunity to increase the customer experience and/or lower the cost through a digitization project. A team is put to work. After launch, the team disbands and the users are left to their own devices. In many cases, users are not that satisfied with the digital tool they have been given and their usual response is to simply circumvent the new system and go back to email, PowerPoint, Excel, or whatever was used before.

Here is what I have learned about how to implement a digital transformation successfully.

1. Software is more flexible than capex projects

I was asked to start with a pricing tool for Shell’s lubricants business. I was tasked with replacing the old pricing tool with a new one we called Aureus. Our work started the same way that digitization projects always had. We listed the customers’ requirements. We spoke to the IT team and the IT architects, then we sketched out a design and launched the product. The problem? Everyone disliked the result.

Our staff are the main users of this tool – the customers only get the quotation, so it’s an inward-facing tool. The big difference between physical capex projects and software capex projects is that physical projects are unforgiving. Once you’ve built a house, if you don’t like the way that the kitchen opens onto the garden it’s too late to change anything. Software is not like that. If you are not happy with the login screen or if elements are too hard to find, then it doesn’t take that much to change them.

So, we came up with the idea of “launch and listen”. This involved holding back a bit of the budget and some people from the team for after launch so that we could listen to what the users had to say so they could make the changes needed. Because you’re only done when your user is happy.

2. Ask the users of the software about their experience

The world of measuring customer experience is a large one – at Shell, we use an experience management platform called Medallia. After every interaction with one of our contact centers, customers are given the opportunity to tell us how good or bad it was, and why they gave us that score.

However, during the Aureus project, I realized our approach was uneven. Although we continuously survey our customers, we don’t do the same with our employees. I decided to use Medallia with staff – essentially, our internal customers – using the new Aureus pricing tool. The initial results were a shock to the system. The score we received was five out of 10.

As a leader, one way you can hold your team to account is by having direct access to what users think about what the team has given them. It makes the process fully transparent and there’s no place to hide anymore.

3. Act on the responses of users

The only thing worse than asking for feedback is asking for feedback and then doing nothing with it. Whenever my team makes a new product – and we have now launched around eight – users are given a “launch and listen” button where they can score the product out of 10. If the product gets anything below an eight, someone from the team will call them that same day.

customer satisfaction
As a leader, one way you can hold your team to account is by having direct access to what users think about what the team has given them

Product after product, we found the average initial user satisfaction score was approximately six out of 10 in the first days after launch. This can be for a number of reasons. The most common is that although users might have attended training on a new product, they may not have followed what was said. In those cases, the user is taken through training again. The other common complaints are about issues that can be fixed comparatively quickly, such as lags in the system or problems logging on.

What is notable is the positive response received when we call users to ask about why they scored the product that way. They are often pleasantly surprised at being given a real opportunity to share their opinions.

In the world of software, it is difficult to plan a product to excellence – a 10 out of 10 is unheard of – but with “launch and listen” we are able to quickly drive up user satisfaction.

4. Target what to fix

Every organization has finite resources and has the challenge of prioritizing what to fix. No one can address every problem that is brought to them.

As a result, we take our money, resources, and time to focus on the issues that cause the greatest problems. We decide what these are by following Vilfredo Pareto’s eponymously named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of problems are caused by 20% of issues.

It is an approach that appears to be working. At the beginning of 2022, on one project we went from an approval rating of 7.2 in the first quarter up to 8.5 in the second. Within three months we had made a noticeable impact because we fixed the issues that most people were complaining about.

This kind of success can be seen in the results. Because internal customer satisfaction has been improving, external customer satisfaction scores have been improving too. Although it is hard to put a financial figure on it, we know happier customers mean higher profits.

5. Think about costs in a different way

The cost of implementing a new digital process that is tied to the experience of the users might not cost tens of millions of dollars, but it does cost millions. Compared to the money for launch, the cost of implementing a system like “launch and listen” comes in at around 20% of the original costs.

The point to remember is that these costs decrease over time. While there are many issues at the beginning, as you fix them you reach the point where it is going well and nobody has anything to complain about.

Evoking one of our core mantras, Laura Young, SVP of Customer Operations, told me, “The ‘launch and listen’ approach has a positive impact far wider than just the individual project in which it is used. It is helping us to delight our customers. It contributes to our ambition of making Shell Customer Operations ‘A Great Place to Be’ by improving employee satisfaction and it feeds directly into our bottom line. It has become a vital ingredient in our digital strategy.”


Thomas Moons

Thomas Moons

Global Head for Customer Experience Excellence for Shell

Based in the Netherlands, Thomas Moons is Global Head for Customer Experience Excellence for Shell in charge of driving the companys digital transformation. He graduated from IMDs full-time MBA program in 2005.


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