Digital Leadership Priorities for 2021: Summary.

Jack Reinelt, President of the Americas
27 January 2021

When we reflect on the past 12 months in the business world, we relive how the pandemic has caused massive disruptions to business models and created many challenges to everyday processes. However, it also generated various opportunities and shone a light on digital change, abruptly shifting it from being a side initiative to core businesses to becoming a center stage priority for leadership.

In our webinar last week, Ross Sleight, Chief Strategy Officer at Somo, explored the key themes of our recent white paper; and led a fantastic discussion with our guest speakers, who shared with us their experiences, insights, and key takeaways.

The panel consisted of global experts across multiple industries, including Christine A. Cravens (Group Manager, Product Design & Research, Kroger), Pete Markey (Chief Marketing Officer, TSB Bank), and Jay Aho (Team Leader in Business Strategy, Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage). Below,  I’ll share some of the key takeaways from the conversation:

Customer service re-imagined:
From a banking standpoint, many establishments had to change their focus from originally planned projects in 2020 to quickly launching solutions to help them adapt to the pandemic. Businesses re-shifted their plans to concentrate on customer care and reorientated their marketing efforts and digital focus to help consumers’ rising needs. Pete Markey shared that it all started with a simple question that the TSB bank leadership team asked: “How do we create new means for customers to contact us?” The answer was to establish a new live chat facility with hundreds of employees to cover demand, the live chat ‘TSB’s Smart Agent’ was launched within weeks of the start of the pandemic. Pete added that TSB’s resilience in achieving digital change was apparent in their unique use of social media, they leveraged the platform to listen to what customers are asking from them and then reiterated these needs and how they will be met. 

It was one of the biggest customer- service listening exercises we’ve ever done in the brand’s history, and a lot of that continues in this present day

- Pete Markey, Chief Marketing Officer, TSB

The physical/digital hybrid journey forward:
Prior to COVID-19, one of Kroger’s initiatives was to provide an improved digital journey at a larger scale, especially with the prediction that e-commerce grocery was going to continue its projected growth. Of course, these digital initiatives were only pushed to the front of the line by the arrival of the pandemic, which led the largest grocer in the U.S. to rapidly invest in fulfilment centers and a new partnership with Ocado, a British retail company. Kroger has been licensing Ocado’s automated warehouse technology to fulfill grocery e-commerce orders and deliver directly to their consumers.

As the consumer’s demand for delivery and click & pickup ramped up quickly, Kroger launched a new ‘Day Pickup Center’ in Cincinnati Ohio, in which they transformed a traditional grocery store into a click and collect model only, opening up time slot availability and allowing consumers to come in at a pre-planned time of the day to pick up their custom orders. 

We've been able to use the Pickup Center as a test & learn ground for innovation and new processes with the goal of reducing customers’ wait-time and then iterating quickly to improve the overall experience

- Christine A. Cravens, Group Manager, Product Design & Research, Kroger

Embracing the cultural change:
Work culture has been directly impacted by the pandemic since March of last year, so how do leaders ensure the well-being of their employees, and what methods can be used to cultivate work-life balance? 

Jay Aho shared that visible involvement from leadership is essential to supporting team members, and explained how his company has succeeded to illustrate dedication to their employees in two ways:

Physical: When Quicken Loans had to send over 18,000 employees to work from home, they loaded multiple semi-trucks full of hardware and set up appointments for thousands of team members so they could drive into a designated parking garage, show their badge, and automatically receive an external monitor and any additional supplies they felt were needed for a successful work from home environment. 

Psychological: One of the things that the co-founder of Quicken Loans has done very successfully, is to develop his leadership team and to establish 20 principles that they call ‘Isms’, which are simple fundamentals that drive the company’s decisions and help keep that entrepreneurial heart at their core and a part of their culture.

These 20 principles have helped guide us and unite our teams during really challenging times such as this past year. These Isms keep us connected and operating the same way we would have been, if we all were in the office

- Jay Aho, Team Leader in Business Strategy, Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage

Developing opportunities by focusing on innovation:
Cristine shared her perspective that it’s important for innovation to be very customer-centric, and be able to answer the question of ‘how can we meet customer needs in meaningful ways?’ A great example of that is when Kroger started the initiative ‘hometown heroes’, where hospital workers make online orders and then sign up for specific pick-up times, then Kroger team members would deliver the orders directly to the hospital.

The goal was to help hospital workers who were very stretched and unable to be home in a certain time and keep them safe and away from stores. It’s felt very meaningful to innovate in a way that is fitting an unmet need for our customers

- Christine A. Cravens, Group Manager, Product Design & Research, Kroger

Pete believes that agility and speed are key factors in innovation. In the world of marketing, TSB Bank was able to continue producing creatively, the team created TV ads that were filmed in people's homes using high-quality camera equipment and created in a matter of weeks.

For me it’s the necessity to re-define the art of the possible and what we can achieve when we face a challenge; both in terms of digital innovation but also in terms of business delivery

- Pete Markey, Chief Marketing Officer, TSB

Jay shared his vision that innovation is absolutely at the core of enabling new revenue streams. For example, Quicken Loans has designated a group of individuals to be fully focused on exploring innovative ideas in the company. Their goal is to create an environment where entrepreneurial ideas are absolutely welcomed and encouraged. The organization now has over 200 entities that form what is called ‘The Family of Companies’ which are various businesses that Quicken Loans has invested in, including fintech professional services, hotels, charitable foundations, private equities, and venture capitals.

Innovating has become a part of our DNA, and when you create that sort of culture, other great things can happen sometimes that even means spinning off new businesses

- Jay Aho, Team Leader in Business Strategy, Quicken Loans/Rocket Mortgage

Ross concluded this interesting conversation and asked one last question: Has the pandemic created uncertainty in the financial culture of your company; has it impacted the way you budget for projects and initiatives?

Our panelists were all in agreement that their organizations are not slowing down, on the contrary, they are investing more. The pandemic has unexpectedly created a positive effect by highlighting the necessity to invest to meet customer needs, emphasizing the urgency for digital change, and accelerating plans that may have not otherwise happened until a few years down the road. The new circumstances induced by COVID-19 have dramatically changed the direction of our thinking, propelled us forward, and gave us the opportunity to refocus on our true priorities.

You can download our digital priorities white paper here and watch the full webinar recording here: