The customer journey has seen tremendous change in the past decade thanks to digital transformation, granting countless practical benefits to organisations across sectors. Despite the massive potential benefits, to both the business and to customers, the teams charged with navigating digital transformations are still facing scepticism from within their own organsiations.

It’s unfortunately common for colleagues to see digital as something that is done to the company, which can be costly and bring only intangible benefits, but is not wholly owned by the company. When Nuffield Health first undertook its digital transformation, we operated under a very similar situation, and knew that we would never receive the support or the funding we needed to make meaningful changes if the situation stayed the same.

Gaining a sense of ownership

We found the key to overcoming this reluctance was building cross-functional teams for our digital projects. As a rule, we decided that core members of each team must be in the room for every step of the process. Depending on the nature of the project, this could include members of human resources, finance, operations and those who communicate with customers on a daily basis.

For example, when we began developing a new front-end process for front desk services at our gyms, the decision-making included everyone – from the finance people who reconcile the money it generates to the front desk staff who would be using the new system on a daily basis. Such a project would involve implementing an entirely new process within the business – the digital component simply being the method of delivery – so there needed to be input from those who would be affected by its implementation. By adopting this methodology, we ensured that all those affected would gain a sense of ownership over the project, allowing for a smoother implementation and therefore quicker and more meaningful results.

Defining innovation

The nature and scope of digital projects also need serious consideration. Digital teams are typically instructed to pursue “innovation” and so it’s worthwhile exploring what should be considered innovative in any particular context. Digital projects are often overly ambitious or in areas that are only tangential to the business. Actually building unnecessary standalone apps or aiming to become the Facebook of whichever sector your company operates in could be considered the antithesis of innovation, as Nuffield Health discovered quite quickly.

The most innovative projects are often the unsexy ones, working at the core of your existing business to digitise customer journeys and operational processes. Digital teams need to build confidence in order to receive funding and support, and the easiest way to do so is often by building the very basic projects that can show clear benefits. Projects like online booking, online payments and collecting data for marketing are examples that have worked for us as their impact is clear and benefits tangible. Digital teams should always be focused on digitising the existing business, rather than inventing new processes and applications for spaces in which the company doesn’t currently operate.

For Nuffield Health, this started with allowing members to book gym classes online – which we recently also extended and now our customers can book physiotherapy appointments online via our website. As soon as that functionality existed, the company was able to know which members were taking which classes, and could tailor those members’ communications accordingly. For example, if data indicated a member had booked zumba classes online, they were automatically offered a discount on zumba classes when their membership was up for renewal. Conversely, enabling online booking also ensured our customers didn’t receive offers for classes that would be inappropriate, such as highly-intensive courses being offered to a customer who regularly attends physiotherapy classes.

Enabling online booking and payments in particular can have a tremendous impact on marketing for any business, as they allow companies to gather valuable customer data. The more data organisations acquire, the more effective their automated marketing solutions will become.

Regardless of what services your company offers, the impact of smart, personalised marketing is undeniable. With this in mind, companies looking to gain more from digital should be driving as much engagement as possible through digital means.

The impact of digital transformation

Personal banking is another prime example of how big of an impact digital transformation can have on the customer journey – even the digital sceptics were on board with online banking. It wasn’t so long ago that banking was considered to be an incredibly painful process. Nowadays, however, a majority of people handle most of their banking through an app or website, which has made the process incredibly agile and convenient.

While most decision-makers in your company will be familiar with this, it’s surprisingly rare for people to draw the connection between the digital transformation that has already taken place in banking and the potential that digital transformation holds for their own sector. The same was likely true in banking when the sector’s digital transformation first began. Whether executives understand the power and importance of digitalisation or not, its growth will not slow down. With this in mind, digital teams must act as evangelists for digitalisation, pursuing digital projects that demonstrate value in a way that everyone, regardless of department, can understand. Projects should focus on delivering tangible difference to the business through transforming foundational capabilities, and be implemented on a regular basis. By doing so, digital teams can ensure their projects are met with confidence, rather than reluctance.

Iain O’Neil will be speaking about creating a digitally-enabled culture in Nuffield Health in a session called “Focus on the core: Digital transformation in healthcare” at TFM on 29th September.

Iain ONeil

Iain ONeil


Iain O'Neil, Digital Director, Nuffield Health.