While many customer experience (CX) improvements do not necessarily require technology investment, an increasing number do, making the CIO critical to the success of the initiative.
Over the past decade there has been a shift in bargaining power between the organisation and its customers. Customers have benefited from greater access to information, a wider choice of suppliers and the ability to compare across industries and locations.
The result is that they punish a poor CX more quickly and communicate their dissatisfaction more widely — but they also reward superior customer experiences and are willing to pay a premium.
The competition for customers is becoming less about the core products and services sold or delivered and more about the emotional experience of interacting with an organisation.
1. Gauge the commitment of senior management to the CX before expending resources
All executives say they care about customers and that they would like to be more customer-centric, but they are compensated to meet financial objectives. These tend to be short-term, focusing on the next quarter or year. A superior CX tends to pay off financially in the medium term, so executives are forced to balance these two competing interests.
Those lacking the commitment, not taking the longer-term view and staying the course, will often cut investment in CX when short-term financial targets are threatened. This means that it is important to gauge just how serious the executives are before committing IT resources to support the initiative.
2. Find out what initiatives are already in place and who’s running them
There are already many different ongoing projects across organisations focused on improving the CX. Gartner has spoken to organisations with over 150 different projects in place that their heads of customer experience or chief customer officers already have in their line of sight. Many do not involve technology — yet.
Improvement to the customer experience comes in many forms. The skills needed are wide ranging, from analysts to interrogate and make use of customer feedback in the marketing customer insight team to process improvers redesigning or reinventing processes in the product quality team, as well as designers in the product development team or the web content user experience (UX) team.
It can also involve procurement professionals negotiating for third-party services that impact on the CX, the finance team sending out bills and invoices, or salespeople with one-to-one personal relationships built up over years.
Therefore, almost everyone in an organisation can make a difference to the CX. There is no panacea for improving the CX because it requires 1,000 minor improvements to get the desired result. Therefore, it is important for the CIO to get a picture of all the projects that are in place and those that are being initiated to feed into the IT project portfolio planning.
3. Go beyond customer process re-engineering to customer process reinvention
The IT team tends to have a longer time frame when thinking about customers than many other departments, and a broader view, as it supports all parts of the organisation.
In particular, IT architects often have a better perspective than most of the whole set of processes involving customers. However, customer interactive processes were designed for the benefit of the organisation looking from the inside out — they weren’t implemented with the customer in mind from the outside in.
One mechanism for framing all those customer-facing processes from the viewpoint of customers is to use a customer life cycle. While the basic steps on the life cycle differ for each industry and need to be determined by the CX leadership team, the detail of the underlying processes sits on the process maps maintained by the IT department. The processes might include campaign execution, onboarding, activation of a service, complaints handling, billing and repair scheduling.
Hanging these processes from the overall framework of the life cycle is a good way for IT to get involved in a practical way in support of the initiative. However, this really only frames existing processes and doesn’t involve the fundamental reinvention of customer-facing processes by using techniques such as customer journey mapping.
For this purpose, get involved in journey mapping work or engage external help to learn the approach so that it can contribute even more.
4. Get the basics right by stealing ideas from others
Many organisations try to move too fast and aim to fix the customer experience issues over six months or a year. Those that have been successful often take four or five years to go from average to great or from awful to average.
A common error is to focus on fixing the ‘nice to have’ elements of the CX without addressing the frustrations or limitations of the core product or service. If deliveries are frequently late, product quality poor or higher pricing seen as unwarranted, then it doesn’t matter whether employees smile or customer satisfaction survey completion rates rise, or the UX on the website is world leading.
Don’t be afraid of stealing ideas from others. If a competitor has an element of the CX that is superior then study it and imitate it. Look initially at direct competitors, then companies in the same industry but in other countries, and then look at other industries.
5. Take a business-model view of digital innovation
The digital customer experience is attracting a high level of interest at the moment and is often the area where IT is first asked to assist.
Until recently, the focus has been on marketing and customer service projects, such as personalising content in a newsletter or improving web self-service capabilities. However, the remit of digital technology is widening.