Digital transformation through the customer lens

Posted on 7 Jul 2021 by Tom St John

The digital revolution is very much in full swing for UK manufacturers, so why did so many digital transformation programmes fail in 2019/2020?

During this time, 70% of all money spent on digital transformation technologies was wasted. To put that into context; of the £1.3 trillion spent on digital transformation, £900 billion did not achieve its stated objectives, according to figures from the likes of Harvard Business School and McKinsey & Company.

Speaking at Digital Manufacturing Week 2020, Chris Garthwaite, the CEO of customer experience consultancy CGA, examined the angle that a lack of consideration for the customer’s perspective could be the reason for this failure.

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Chris has spent 20 years running CGA and has worked with a variety of clients around the world, mapping and plotting their path to customer centricity. In all of the different industries and working environments he has been in, he says that putting the customer at the heart of propositions has allowed the companies he has helped to change and transform the success of their businesses.

Chris said, as part of his keynote presentation at DMW 2020: “Initiatives undertaken around digital transformation are often done through a manufacturing perspective and are tailored to the industry sectors perspective. I would argue that by taking the customer perspective and understanding the outcomes that you are trying to achieve will actually improve the chances of those programmes being a success.”

Chris then went on to outline the following:

Three killer questions in Digital Manufacturing:

  • What is the definition of your success as defined by your customers?

“So many programmes are done through the lens of the project or through a need to drive operational efficiency. But, what would that mean for your customers? Or for your customers customer – what would success look like?”

  • How confident are you that your programme has got the balance right between cost efficiency and meeting your customers’ needs in a human way?

“Technology for technology’s sake does not mean to say it’s right. Increasingly people are looking for something that is delivered in a human way. Ensuring that any digital programme is aligned to what your customers, or your customers’ customers outcomes are, will improve the opportunity for that programme to become a success.”

  • Are you confident you have de-risked your investment?

“When considering the previous question, are you confident that you have de-risked the investment you are looking to make in digital transformation. That is quite a hard balance to get right. It is only by looking at the two perspectives of cost efficiency and meeting your customers’ needs in a human way that you start to understand what the right approach is.”


It was explained to those listening to Chris’ presentation, that true value from your investment involves appreciating the manufacturer perspective but also the customer perspective. The language used in manufacturing is very different to terms used by customers.

Language used in manufacturing

  • Function
  • Distribution
  • Growth
  • Productivity
  • Process

Language used by the customers

  • Transparency
  • Easy
  • Hassle free
  • Effective
  • Enjoyable

Any digital initiatives and transformation programme to support manufacturing is aligned to the language that the customer is using to make success more likely.

Chris continued: “By understanding the perspective from the customer’s point of view allows you to understand how you add value through the whole relationship of your product. There are benefits of looking at it from a manufacturing point of view, of course. How do we drive efficiency, productivity, consistency etc. However, it is only when you then start to think about how the customer fits into this (either your immediate customer or their customer) that you start to understand how you add value in the overall life of that product. Only then you start to reinvent and reimagine its relevance going forward.”

To conclude, the essence of Chris’ talk was that digital tools and technologies can absolutely benefit the industry, but to take that technology and implement it in a way that works for you does not necessarily mean it is adding value. A business could adopt a piece of software that allows them to work smarter and more efficiently, but if it is not conducive to a customer’s needs then it is not helpful for that business.

CEO of The Manufacturer, Chris Hussey added: “I am generalising slightly, but historically manufacturers have perhaps not focused on the customer experience side of things – certainly not the end customer experience as Chris has identified. This is just the sort of challenging key note presentation that we want to hear during Digital Manufacturing Week.”