A Q&A with Cliff Kurniawan, strategic storyteller, business and technology strategist
07th April 2021
Author Cliff Kurniawan
Nearly 13 years into his journey with Davanti, we catch up with Cliff Kurniawan, one of Davanti’s true Swiss Army knives (so much so he doesn’t even have an official title), to find out more about his role and what matters most to Davanti’s customers right now when it comes to succeeding in their quests for customer experience transformation, and helping customers to truly deliver on the promise of digital.
Hi Cliff! Tell us about your role.
I don’t have an official title, although a lot of people introduce me as a strategic storyteller, or a business and technology strategist. A lot of what I do is all about helping businesses understand a number of things…
Sometimes organisations need help crystallising what their business problem really is and articulating it to a wider (and often skeptical) audience. Often they believe that technology is part of the solution, but haven’t thought about the root cause of the problem or the outcomes they are seeking. A big part of what I do is (politely) asking challenging questions to unpack things like root causes and desired outcomes so that we can help organisations drive better alignment between what they are trying to achieve from a business perspective and their wider business purpose and strategy.
In a nutshell, I help businesses understand their business problems, how technology can help solve them (or not!) and help develop a strategic roadmap to enable technology to help them solve these problems.
Tell us about your journey with Davanti. What’s changed and what’s stayed the same over the past decade or so?
I’m coming up 13 years with Davanti (I don’t think we even have a piece of furniture older than that here!).
Over that time, the thing that has stayed the same is the same thing that attracted me to and has kept me in my role, which is that things change, week by week – different customers, different problems, different challenges. And technology, and what technology is capable of, changes all the time.
Being able to see what’s possible when you’re faced with real problems is what’s attractive to me. You can read something and kind of get it; you can do something and start to get it; or you can live it and then really understand it. That’s what’s so interesting about this role.
Also, while people come and go, one thing that Davanti has been awesome at is recruiting and keeping awesome people. Together we are all constantly evolving and learning from each other.
What gets you out of bed in the morning. What do you love most about what you do?
The thing I love most of all is when a customer tells me they’ve now got clarity. The best thing is being able to help them crystallise their problem, play it back to them and then hear them say, Yes, that makes sense. I can see how we got here and what we need to do now.
Looking to the year ahead, 2021, what’s the one thing you’re thinking about and focusing on that will help Davanti’s customers get closer to their customers this year?
Over the last five to 10 years, I think a lot of organisations have spent a lot of time working things out, from a digital and customer experience transformation experience perspective.
Just a few years ago, lots of organisations talked about needing a digital strategy and asked questions like, What does that actually mean? And, What is digital? Is it our website, our digital channels, or…? Now there’s an awareness and acceptance that it’s our whole way of working and thinking about the world, and how we use technology within that world. I think a lot of organisations are now really starting to crack that nut.
But now we have to deliver on the promise. The promise was: If you start using technology in a clever way, integrating your systems and automating your processes, then you can really unlock the potential from your customer information, allowing you to personalise the customer experience, deepen customer engagement and drive real efficiency in your business.
But in reality, some of these things haven’t materialised, for many reasons – whether it’s investment, focus, changing priorities – or COVID.
So, the big focus for me in 2021, is all about: how do we help our customers really deliver on this promise?
Over the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about Big Data… Okay, well, we’ve got a whole lot of data now! But now, how do we personalise that and how do we use it to actually deliver better end-to-end experiences for our customers?
What are your customers talking about right now, and thinking about for the year ahead, when it comes to transforming the customer experience?
It comes back to the need to deliver on the promise of digital. Customers get frustrated nowadays when you try to sell them something and they’re thinking or saying things like, Why are you still asking me all of this? You should know who I am when I call you. You have got my number and you should be able to figure out who I am and why I’m calling. Why is this so hard? Why do I have to fill out this form? And why is it a paper form?
Those are the things organisations need to start delivering on next and thinking about how you delight your customer. That might be saving the customer money without them having to ask. Or putting the right offer in front of them based on their preferences.
I’ve been reading a lot about company culture lately, and similarly, with your customer experience culture, when you can deliver a delightful experience and you’re solving real problems for your customer, their spend is higher and you don’t have to sell, because you’re selling just by making them happy.
When you’re not busy doing all this big picture thinking and working out how people are actually going to deliver on the digital promise, what do you get up to?
A few things…. I have got young children, so I like to spend time with them (I hear that kids stop talking to their parents when they hit puberty!). I’m also a bit of a tennis nut, so when the tennis is on, I like to watch it.
My wife also runs a small business, and I get a real buzz out of helping her make that work and helping to solve the challenges we face around the constraints of a small business. We’re constantly thinking about things like: How do we manage and motivate the team? How do we figure out how much stock we need to hold? How do we grow our global business?
My one piece of advice would be – if your kids tell you they want to do run a business, support them, but gently recommend them to be an accountant instead. (In a gold rush, the people who make money are the ones that sell goods and services around the rush, like spades or the bank – just ask Wells Fargo.)
What are you reading and/or listening to at the moment?
How I Built This – The Unexpected Paths to Success form the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs, by Guy Raz.
His podcast How I Built This is also worth checking out. I listen to a lot of podcasts about economics and entrepreneurship. I find How I Built This particularly fascinating because it talks a lot about small businesses and startups and the challenges they face.
The Booker Prize winner for 2020, Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart.
The Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall.
Favourite quote or mantra to live by?
The only way out is through – Robert Frost
I heard this on a podcast recently and it has stuck with me. The thing I take away from this is that often the only way to get through a problem is to go through it. You shouldn’t give up, for a number of reasons. One reason is that when it’s hard for you, it will no doubt be hard for everybody else who trying the same thing, so if you just stay the course, you might be the only one that succeeds. And the other thing is, sometimes something can look really hard, but when you start writing it down and going through it, things become more achievable, and once you’ve worked through it, your worries will disappear.
I also often think of something Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, said:
Do one uncomfortable thing every day.
Sometimes the fear gets in the way of us doing things, because we don’t understand something or know what’s going to happen. But once you experience the thing, it’s actually no big deal – and doing it helps prepare you for all the other challenges you haven’t yet faced.