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5/31/2019
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How IT Can Facilitate Great Customer Experiences

In a modern enterprise environment, the IT group plays a key role in improving the customer experience and the organization's 360-degree view of each customer.

Recently on my way home, I purchased some organic strawberries, only to find out the next morning that they had begun to mold. It shook my confidence. Do I go back there again? Or try some place new?

This is exactly the type of situation that companies want to avoid: losing customers because of a disappointing experience. Companies also don't want disappointed customers “spreading the word” of their disappointment on social media or among their friends.

Business executives understand this. They also believe that technology is a key to unlocking better customer experiences.

In a 2019 survey conducted by CRM provider SuperOffice CRM, respondents believed that digitally enabling their companies created more customer engagement, and that because of this engagement, their customers were six times more likely to try one of their new products or services. They also felt that “engaged” customers were four times more likely to recommend company products and services to friends, family and connections; and twice as likely to purchase from the company, even if a competitor had a better product or price.

Given that technology is a key customer experience driver, how can the professionals in IT improve the customer experience?

Image: Sichon - stock.adobe.com
Image: Sichon - stock.adobe.com

Customer-centric system integration

If the customer experience is “the sum of all the interactions a customer has with a company/organization over the course of their relationship,” systems must be integrated so everyone who is a “touch point” in the organization with the customer has a complete and consistent understanding of the customer’s relationship with the company. Integration isn't easy for most companies. It can involve connecting cloud-based, internal legacy and homegrown systems, and ensuring that the customer data flowing out of all of these systems is consistent. This is IT’s task. The final metric is that individuals in customer service, marketing, sales, production and inventory management see the same customer information.

Why does this matter?

Consider the salesperson who is about to pitch a new (and expensive) order to a favorite client, but the salesperson learns from customer service that the customer recently experienced a problem with an order. This could be enough to convince the salesperson to check in with the customer first, before making the next pitch.

Omnichannel IT

To get a 360-degree view of the customer, all corporate sales and outreach channels to customers must to be linked. This task again falls to IT, which must ensure that telephone conversations, mobile and website chats/orders, in-store purchases, etc, are uniform and satisfactory experiences for customers; that company touch points with customers have the most current information; and that all customer communications with the company over these different communication channels are conducted in a secure environment.

Present and predictive analytics

Tracking and analyzing the purchases and recent website visits of customers is helping companies determine customer interests and recommend new products.

“You want to know about a particular customer and about what brought them to you,” said Kate Adams, senior director demand generation at Drift, which provides a conversational marketing platform.

IoT enablement

Food freshness sensors, algorithms and  supply chain tracking now make incidences of spoiled strawberries -- or spoiled anything -- less frequent. The Internet of Things also tracks inventory in warehouses and distribution centers, and makes it less likely for consumers to experience stockouts. In many cases, vendors specializing in these IoT methods set them up. Yet, it again falls to IT to integrate and coordinate these edge IoT solutions with central systems, and to ensure end-to-end security.

Making it all happen

The challenge for CIOs and IT managers is to develop projects and pathways into company strategies and operations that will make the customer experience better through technology.

Here are five steps IT can take to facilitate improved customer experiences that help companies expand their markets and retain the customers they already have:

1. Make integration your priority in any customer experience project. If companies want to create great customer experiences, they need a 360-degree view of each customer that reflects every communication and activity a customer has had with the company, whether it came through a website, chat/telephone, an in-store experience or social media. Disparate systems within the company that contain customer information (e.g. ERP, CRM, sales reporting, etc.) must be integrated to facilitate that 360-degree customer view. If the company uses some systems that are on premise and some that are cloud, a hybrid IT architecture must be established so data can pass between these different systems and at some point come together in a unified customer data repository.

In many cases, system vendors have APIs that can interface systems, but in other cases, custom code may be required to effect data transfers and exchanges. For all of these reasons, integration of disparate systems and multiple customer channels is the greatest IT challenge, and should be IT’s No. 1 priority in achieving a 360-degree view of the customer.

2. Carefully vet vendors. Almost every software vendor promises seamless integration of its software with other systems within the enterprise, but some systems integrate more seamlessly than others. Since users are increasingly making software “buy” decisions, IT should make every effort to insert itself into system acquisition discussions and decisions to ensure that any new software purchase can integrate with existing enterprise systems. This is especially true if you are trying to achieve a 360-degree view of your customers, which requires extensive system and channel integration. Vendors should also be vetted for security/privacy compliance, which is important for enterprise liability and brand protection as well as for the well-being and confidence of customers.

3. Prioritize definition of customer requirements. In any new system acquisition, or for any new application that customers use, IT should require that all types of information to be collected on customers is thoroughly defined upfront so it knows which systems need to be interfaced for a 360-degree view of the customer. During this effort, IT should work hand in hand with end users from all customer-facing functions to ensure that nothing is missed.

Second, human factors engineering should be included as a requirement and tested in every customer-facing application or system. If a new web portal is being designed for customers, how should the portal navigation and point and click functions work to ensure that customers have an easy, straightforward experience when they engage with the company? If a customer contacts the call center, how can he or she engage without encountering a harrowing and highly complicated automated attendant and/or call tree? These are “ease of use” human factors that are every bit as important as an application that runs flawlessly and integrates well with other systems. Finally, customer ease of use should be required for every QA process for a new customer-facing application. If your test people (who should be non-IT) cannot easily navigate and/or get resolutions to their inquiries and transactions, your customers won’t, either.

4. Retool IT for service. If IT is going to use technology to facilitate ease of use and empathy with the customer among corporate employees, it should be a customer-serving entity itself. This requires an IT “service culture,” which is defined as “an organizational culture where there is a collective way employees think about providing outstanding service, act to provide it, and understand how and why they do it.” Achieving a service culture is still a work in progress for most IT departments. If service is to become a top IT priority, CIOs must continuously advocate, promote and reward for service.

5. Don't forget the basics. The fundamental ingredient of achieving 360-degree views of customers is system integration, which has been a central IT challenge for the past 50 years. A second element of successful customer engagement is application ease of use. More than 30 years ago, in the early 1980s, companies were already testing for ease of use of online transactions by videotaping end-user testers who were trying out green screens in efforts to produce their own reports. The bottom line: Testing for usability is nothing new. Usability testing is just a QA step that IT often opts to neglect in order to meet deadlines. Unfortunately, when you are developing apps that your end customers use, bypassing usability testing is not an option. A company can “make or break” itself with a customer if the engagement it presents is so unwieldy and difficult that the customer just quits.

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information ... View Full Bio
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