Key takeaways

  • Large, multi-sector organisations may view their customers and customer experiences as discrete, according to each division they’re dealing with.
  • Using digital layers, broad service offerings can in fact be united under a single customer experience.
  • By designing in this way, organisations open up the potential to capture and retain customers over a much longer timeframe.

Picture the scene: you’re the director of a property group known for building and operating shopping centres. Decades of prosperity has seen the company diversify beyond retail into other property sectors, establishing service lines in residential apartments, office buildings and hotels.

Things are going well until, one day, they’re not. Patronage growth in the retail division has begun to plateau – first incrementally, then seriously. Research reveals customers are flocking to e-commerce at home or through smart devices, transforming foot traffic to web traffic at an alarming rate.

Online shopping might only be harming the retail division specifically, but it’s a worrying sign of things to come. Digital disruption poses different and separate challenges to other parts of the portfolio: the sharing economy could come for the accommodation arm, while telecommuting and demographic shifts are making sizeable dents in demand for offices.

For large and complex organisations with multiple subsidiaries or service offerings, this hydra of digital disruption is an uncomfortable new reality. A scenario like the one above is currently playing out in real-time in a different sector: the world of financial services. There, multiple fintech firms are competing with banks in sectors such as such as payments, home loans and currency transfer.

Yet the game is far from over. The same digital technology that’s enabling new competitors can aid these bigger players too, helping them compete in the new battleground of customer experience. In doing so, golden opportunities to retain customers across a large company’s broad service offering come within reach.

underpins experience

For larger organisations to compete in the new digital economy, it makes sense to fight fire with fire, investing in the same technologies and business models as their rivals to create comparable experiences. The reality on the ground, however, is less simple.

With many of these companies many decades (or even centuries) old, it’s likely their information technology systems are also venerable – installed piece-by-piece over the years and operating separately across departments, subsidiaries or divisions. In such circumstances, a full digital transformation can be difficult.

Fortunately, these existing legacy systems can still play a part in nurturing new digital experiences through the addition of business service layers – digital platforms that unite old systems with new, allowing modern digital channels and customer experiences to be designed on top.

Examples of enterprise software that can behave like such layers are cloud-based products from Google, Amazon, or Salesforce. Users can plug in or ‘port’ legacy systems or CRMs to these platforms, configuring the older system to regularly feed in data.

From property group
to digital portal

How does such a layered system operate in the real world?

In the case of the beleaguered property services group, integrating residential and commercial office databases might reveal that many of its residents also work in its offices – or it could incentivise such a situation. Software could then be developed to take the form of a hyperlocal portal, matching businesses like dry cleaners, utilities, or food deliverers with customers in need of these services.

Alternatively, a similar setup could be used in a business-to-business context, offering HR support, payroll, or legal services to commercial tenants.

From property group
to experience provider

By including the property group’s retail division, it could unlock even more possibilities. Software could be configured to recognise new customers moving into an apartment in the residential wing, alerting shop owners in the retail database, who then provide relevant targeted offers such as discounted furniture or new appliances.

These interactions can be tracked and measured across the organisation’s divisions using marketing and analytics tools, setting the stage for previously isolated customer experiences to be unified. As an added bonus, identifying potential customers throughout an organisation’s other business divisions can help increase patronage from one sector to another (or vice-versa), providing a key differentiator to e-commerce.

Perhaps most valuable of all, however, is the ability to capture and analyse customer data right from the start of their digital experience. This provides the ability to anticipate future customer needs over a much longer timeframe, all of which can be targeted through careful and thoughtful marketing. If executed correctly, it also allows the overall experience to be aligned with the brand of the property group itself, turning the whole customer journey into its own value proposition.

Leveraging digital
against fintech

Could this newly centralised digital structure be used in other industries, such as banks in their ongoing fight against fintech? Yes.

While banks lack a similar physical portfolio of shopping malls, apartments and hotels; core software could still be combined with new digital layers to redesign the customer experience around convenience and simplicity, forming a key part of a bank’s Connected Banking strategy.

For banks, this digital transformation pathway has added flow-on advantages: it can significantly shorten product development lead times, allowing competitive new products to be researched and brought to market in a matter of weeks instead of years.

Beyond banks and property organisations, other large multi-sector organisations could also leverage these federated structures, developing consistent digital experiences across previously disconnected infrastructure. These could include governments, universities or almost any diversified conglomerate.

to differentiate

Digital might have unlocked the way, but there needs to be the will. Many large organisations still believe that because their services are so different from one another, their customers must be different too. If they were to dig deeper, they might be surprised to discover the opposite is true: many customers will be the exact same people.

It’s therefore time for large companies to examine how digital technology can be leveraged to form long-term relationships with these customers, vastly increasing the customer lifetime value (the amount of profit generated from each customer) by aligning multiple service offerings under a single experience.

In doing so, a company will be able to see where customer needs change and intersect, and where new opportunities might arise. After all, an apartment resident might one day become a retail vendor, or lease an office space for their own digitally disrupting startup.

Special thanks to Stephen Cheshire.



Nick Spooner

Nick Spooner is a partner at PwC and the leader of PwC Digital Services Experience Centre across South East Asia and Australia.

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