Michael was deep in thought as he embarked on his morning drive to the university where he would attend his first-ever Computer Science lecture. His daily commute took him along the country roads of Ostalb, entering the town of Oberkochen about halfway through. The blue logos adorning the massive factory walls of ZEISS came into his field of vision on the right. But it wasn’t a view that particularly impressed him. “I wouldn’t fit in at such a traditional company,” he thought to himself with certainty. Past its sell-by date. “I’m not one to wear suits.”
He was clear where his next journey would take him: a semester abroad in Palo Alto. Silicon Valley. Arriving in the Mecca of digital innovation, he felt like he’d found his professional home. Here, he’d be able to help shape the transformation. This was at a time when startups were turning one industry after another on their heads – because they listened to customers and their needs. Focused on solving problems. That’s exactly what Michael wanted, too – that’s his strength: listening to end-user requirements, taking them seriously and addressing them. He hasn’t changed today.
The Digital Customer Companion
10 years later and Michael is standing in the ZEISS factory in Oberkochen explaining the digitization of customer interaction. He has his cap turned forward, you recognize him a mile off from his trendy sneakers. Still not one to wear suits, but that’s not part of his job description. He wouldn’t have believed that 10 years ago.
“I quickly realized that people who think like I do can be of real benefit to a traditional company,” he says. Another thing he knows today is that even in companies that traditionally grew up with hardware, the importance of software and the rise of the megatrend that is digitization cannot be ignored. “Through our software, we want to provide our customers with a simpler, digital experience with our products and services – and do so 24/7.” And that requires people who think outside the box. Digital and brave – just like Michael.
The platform that he and his colleagues developed is called Digital Customer Companion. Cloud-based, modular and intuitive. With the aim of supporting all customers along the entire life cycle of a product or service as a friendly sidekick. In terms of metrology and microscopy in equal measure. The needs of the customer are paramount. This challenge excites Michael – it’s why he joined ZEISS. Because such development requires new methods: “The company grew up in a more technology-driven, traditional environment. However, we’ve since pursued a lean and customer-oriented approach at ZEISS.
Don’t hesitate – for the sake of the customer
There’s no long-drawn-out coordination phase. Together with his team, Michael focuses on implementing customer requirements as quickly as possible. Intensive interviews and methods, such as design thinking, help achieve this objective. He emphasizes: “We start development work right away and test the results directly in close communication with the customer.”
This is followed by quick iterations until a minimum level of requirements is implemented. The minimum valuable product. The digital innovation laboratory initially made its mark with small projects with this approach. A separate unit has since emerged at ZEISS – the digital innovation partners – supporting all divisions with digitization. Michael reflects: “We didn’t spend too much time explaining what we do, rather we simply did the work and presented the results.” This created trust in the digital team.
Digitization and tradition
But this also requires a certain amount of tact. Because it’s not always easy to strike the balance between exploring new possibilities and respecting tradition.
But that’s not much of an issue for Michael. He may have joined the company with the aim of taking ZEISS digital to a new level. But his respect for tradition comes naturally. A couple of years ago, for example, he bought himself a 30-year old Golf Mk2. “The antimatter to my digital life, you could say,” he explains. Michael again hits the rural roads of the region aboard his VW. Except for this time, he enjoys his drive to Oberkochen. The blue ZEISS logos on the factory walls firmly in view.