Creating the ideal customer experience is one of the hot areas of focus right now for organisations who believe it will provide them a competitive advantage.
So what’s the role of the CIO and IT team in helping develop the customer experience? It's clear that there is often a lack of clarity over who owns the ‘customer’ in an organisation. Is it marketing, sales, operations or the customer contact team?
As enterprise is being transformed by digitisation, my view is IT has a key leadership role to play.
Many define customer experience as the sum of all experiences that one has with an organisation. But what is customer experience really all about?
Is it to create a brand-new class of experience or just to eliminate the bad episodes? Is customer experience about reinventing the interactions or eliminating process variation?
Client experience advocate at Deloitte, Geoff Stalley, believes consistency is an important factor.
“The key to great customer experience is consistency and thus the objective for any organisation has to be to embed a way of dealing with customers that provides a consistent, excellent experience," he said.
“Bad experiences are the ones remembered and often communicated on social media or by word of mouth, and when this happens these can outweigh the great experiences by a factor of ten. Thus any activity that removes variations and creates a consistent excellent experience is one that will succeed”, he said.
Walking in the customers’ shoes
Stalley noted that the real challenge is seeing things from the customer’s point of view; try walking in the customers’ shoes to define the experience your organisation could provide.
This journey will help to uncover the gap between the standard processes your organisation adopts today and missing interaction points that would make for a smoother experience.
According to Raj Mendes, the managing director of The Customer Experience, it doesn’t matter how exceptional your experience is on paper "if you can’t execute it consistently - then it’s worth nothing".
To create a truly noteworthy experience, Mendes recommends companies start with customer needs, goals and expectations. This forms the basis for a customer strategy and allows an organisation to be targeted in the way it approaches improving customer experience. Then a business can select the areas in which it wants to be exceptional.
Who owns the customer? In Australia, often no single job role holds ownership of the customer, meaning the customer is orphaned and neglected.
Tim Sheedy, who helps his Forrester clients design and implement digital and mobile strategies, said “too many Australian businesses de-prioritise customer experience. Many customer experience people I speak to are junior, with little influence or budget.”
Customer experience isn’t a destination, it’s a journey
A journey suggests this is an ongoing odyssey and not a one-off project. Early adopters have changed the fabric of the organisation.
It is not about implementing a new CRM system with some technology bells and whistles. Stalley said dedicated customer experience programs needed to be embedded into the culture of the organisation.
“This starts with listening to the customer and systematically obtaining feedback from a range of interactions, understanding the good, bad and the ugly at each interaction point, making changes to processes that will improve the experience and then measuring and rewarding the behaviours that matter to customers," he said.
"In essence it’s all about connecting with customers and understanding what they want.”
Read on for two case studies....
Stalley cited Zurich Insurance in Europe, which realised that great customer experience actually results in a far better financial outcome for the business.
The company took steps to measure and adjust the customer-facing activities of various teams in the marketplace to lift their financial performance.
Since then, many organisations have recognised that profitable and happy clients are the sweet spot of longevity in the market, and focusing on these dimensions helps companies outperform those that don’t.
Embracing a customer-centric approach
For many in IT, this may sound like marketing mumbo jumbo. How can IT contribute to a customer experience program?
“A good customer experience management program, which delivers actionable feedback at all levels, is really critical to sustaining focus,” Mendes said.
“This needs to be driven by a strong customer strategy which can identify and target initiatives and execute them within the business.
“However unless you embed customer centricity into the underlying culture of the organisation you won’t be able to ensure that the customer stays front of mind. These three elements become the foundation for sustained, customer centric action from all staff.”
IT teams are the best placed to role model this culture change. Our reactions to both internal and external customers need to reflect a customer-centric culture.
IT teams need to see things from the customer’s perspective ourselves. We have to understand what interactions really matter and what we do to support those efforts.
What IT does in terms of providing people, process and technology are the fundamental components of any organisation - they just need to be arranged in a way that provides a great customer experience.
Sheedy pointed out that it is hard to deliver a great customer experience without ensuring a ‘good’ employee experience. Employees need to be enabled to deliver experiences that make sense to the customer with processes and technology aligned to support them.
Case study—Shanghai hot pot
Hai Di Lao is a chain of restaurants serving spicy hotpot soup. Its ethos is to ‘serve the people’, and this starts upon arrival when staff take and remember your name.
When no table is available, cheerful staff will provide you free drinks (wine and beer) as well as snacks. There is free wi-fi and board games to pass the time. Some locations even provide a shoe shine or manicure as a complimentary service.
Waiters are given discretion to provide clients extras such a fruit platter or dessert.
In the case of Hai Di Lao, each staff member lives in a free company apartment, is paid well and provided other services, such as a nanny service.
This translates into genuinely happy staff who deliver an incredible customer experience.
Looking from the outside in
This case study is a great example of looking at the dining experience from the shoes of the diner.
What does a diner want when they are waiting for a table? How can we delight the customer?
Build and deliver what the customer wants. If that means working with the regulator to change legislation then that's what needs to be done. The banking sector has demonstrated businesses who push the limits and push the regulations tend to be more successful.
That’s a powerful example and a lesson for every CIO and his IT team. How can we start to look at the world from the outside in and find ways to partner with the business to deliver what’s needed?
Good luck with the journey...