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Formulating a customer-first approach is key to accelerating business growth — Twilio’s Lee Hawksley

The pandemic has had a lasting influence on customer expectations and behavior, and it’s here to stay. In today’s digital age, staying ahead of your competition requires more than just an online presence. A customer-first approach has become a key differentiator, and businesses, if they haven’t already, need to adapt and change. According to Twilio’s State of Customer Engagement Report 2021, the majority of organizations surveyed viewed digital customer engagement as critical to their business survival and success moving forward. 

To find out how digital acceleration will continue to shape the rapidly changing business landscape, we sat down with Lee Hawksley, Vice President and General Manager for Asia Pacific and Japan at Twilio.

You’re no stranger to digital transformation, having witnessed the coming of the internet revolution and client-server computing phenomenon in your career. What’s different about this phase of digital acceleration brought about by the pandemic and how has that affected businesses in the APAC region?

The unprecedented mass shift to remote work has caused organizations to re-evaluate and re-prioritize their digital transformation directives and agendas. Customer engagement has risen up to the top of the agenda as brands are realizing that they need innovative ways to connect and interact with customers, especially if they want to develop an ongoing and loyal relationship. 

Taking this into account, I believe we can soon expect to see more personalized customer experiences delivered from digital concierges at home. Over the past two years, many companies in APAC accelerated at an unprecedented pace, some by as much as four to five years. This has simultaneously created entirely new and innovative ways of connecting with and servicing customers, and unlocked new opportunities in the workforce. According to LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise Report 2021, roles in Customer Service, including customer support and contact center specialists, are among the fastest-growing in Southeast Asia.

These two forces acting in conjunction will drive a change in contact centers of the future. As brands act swiftly to close the experience gap, meet customer needs and become more agile, they will undoubtedly adopt a more digital-first approach for their contact center. This means increased investments in digital solutions, which will not only empower more agents to work remotely, but also offer greater omnichannel experiences in line with customers’ needs. 

I won’t be surprised if we see even more businesses build flexible, tailored contact centers that can respond to rapidly changing market conditions, and serve customers on any channels in the coming years.

Given that digital transformation is really more of an ongoing process than a one-off project, do you expect technologists and developers to have a bigger voice in the boardroom moving forward?

Absolutely. Business and IT should work hand in hand. I would go as far as to say that one of the biggest impediments in businesses’ digital transformation journey today is that they operate in silos.

As companies adopt a digital-first approach and new digital natives emerge, IT decisions and business decisions are essentially one and the same.

I do think that technologists are crucial to any organization’s digital journey and should be involved to set the tone and define the strategic objectives for the overall business. This will ensure that every decision—from software development to implementation—is aligned with a broader objective that will also propel the business forward. 

Besides having more technical CEOs exert their influence, developers could potentially also play a bigger role. They’re often overlooked, but there is value in bringing them in as partners. Organizations could tap on their expertise to identify gaps in existing solutions and solve various business problems.

While we’re beginning to see more signs of the economy stabilizing, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty ahead. How can businesses in the APAC region ensure that their investments in these digital initiatives lead to greater resiliency?

Customers today expect the same level of service, transparency, and superior experiences regardless of industry. This means that across the board – be it education, financial services, retail, or telecommunications – organizations have been forced to sit upright and pay attention. After all, approximately three quarters of consumers have a preference for digital channels and communications, spurred on by the pandemic-induced reliance on digital services.

Organizations in APAC are now racing to unlock the untapped potential in their customer engagement strategies to establish a competitive advantage for the long run. The region registered the fastest growth in the global Communications Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) market, at 55% year-on-year (above the 40% global average). Some of the world’s best innovators and disruptors are emerging from the APAC region and I believe this is a trend that will accelerate in years to come.

There’s often a misconception the benefits of digital transformation can only be reaped by larger businesses with deeper pockets. While having extra resources certainly doesn’t hurt, digital-first organizations that are willing to reinvent their ways of working will benefit most from their agile processes.

The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Regardless of what industry, or what stage of transformation they are in, businesses must first look inwards to assess their existing culture and level of maturity. Some organizations may benefit from a more leadership-driven, holistic approach to align their business around a single digital agenda and navigate these changes; others may seek a more incremental, “brick-by-brick” strategy and rely on ground-up initiatives from employees to spur innovation. 

In my experience, the most successful digital transformations are in fact a series of connected and aligned ‘digital renovations’ – high-impact, quick-to-deliver projects that when rolled up change the fundamental nature of the business.

What does remain consistent is the need for organizations to be intentional about building and empowering multi-disciplinary teams. Talent will always be a business’  most valuable asset. Business leaders must cultivate an environment that embraces collaboration and open exchange of ideas, while investing in their employees to encourage a culture of continuous learning. In doing so, employees will remain motivated, highly skilled, and more importantly, inspired to add value to the organization.

To bring your company’s customer engagement setup a step forward, connect with a Twilio expert today and discover more of what Twilio can do for you.