Customer is king – this old adage has never held more relevance than now. Today’s modern, hyper-connected, digitally conscious customer has brought a shift in their consumption habits to expect more of businesses. They want to connect emotionally with a brand, get instant responses on social media, and receive personalized service as de-facto standard; this customer is constantly connected, mobile-native and is aware of the tools that technology can provide.
Many digital-born organizations have started to deliver experiences that meet or exceed these customers’ expectations; this way they have ingeniously reset the expectations of customers towards a product or service and sent competitors into a scrambled frenzy to redesign their existing portfolio.
Any customer, during the course of their relationship with a brand, has many interactions: whether they are in-person, over a phone, or online, where they are interacting with employees, channels, systems, or products in meaningful ways. The accumulation of all these interactions creates a perception in the customer’s mind towards the brand – Customer Experience then becomes about engagement in more personal, meaningful ways that are consistent across all channels. Customer experience then is not just about delivering cutting-edge experiences and enabling new channels to engage customers but about creating a holistic approach to the way customers interact with and obtain a consistent experience from a brand, irrespective of where and when they need it.
This poses a unique and novel challenge to the brands and businesses: many companies approach Customer Experience in a very rational way, while customers make emotional decisions. According to a recent survey, up to three-quarters of customers said they might walk away after just one bad experience - from a brand they love. This means that loyal customers do not exist anymore, and brands who think are delivering a great customer experience might need a fact check. This leads to a substantial gap between what customers expect vis-à-vis what the business might actually be delivering.
Usually, as a customer interacts with a brand as part of their customer journey, they do so via multiple touchpoints such as websites, social media, mobile apps, and call centers. Heaps of data generated during this process is usually not collected/integrated into the business process. This has been identified as one of the biggest challenges to becoming an experience-centric business. Current systems might be generating a large amount of customer data like past purchases, product specifications, pricing decisions, etc., but they are in silos and not integrated across legacy systems to deliver cohesive data-driven insights. Hence, leaders are unable to understand the customer journey and the impact of each touchpoint to deliver the desired customer experience. This does not directly mean that organizations should quickly search for one silver bullet and try to just fix one touchpoint which seems to be the biggest problem. Similarly, jumping on the latest tech bandwagon typically can drive the Customer Experience operation, but might fail in the long-term without having leadership & organizational alignment around a common vision.
Leaders should focus instead on working across organizational silos and recognizing that a huge co-ordination effort across different functions within the organization is required to deliver an increasingly positive experience to customers. This is done by presenting a business case and getting the right buy-in. Traditionally, securing a buy-in requires internal alignment from senior stakeholders across functions such as marketing, product development, customer care, operations, etc. Also, this activity is usually relegated towards the end of the transformation roadmap. To ensure success, however, it is imperative to find parts of a business where a leader is easily able to identify “Change Agents” within different teams to fast-track the transformation effort. This will ensure that it is much easier to identify functional areas for transformation, pick on the low hanging fruit first or be more aggressive and take a big-bang approach. This then becomes the perfect playground for leveraging the expertise provided by Enterprise Architects (EA) - technologists who understand the impact of exponential technologies, embrace the pace of change, and can advise the C-suite on a focused strategy.
One interesting approach to addressing customer needs and design experiences come by understanding the customer’s perception through their end-to-end journey via pain points and Moments of Truth (MOT). Customer journey maps are frequently used to re-imagine the customer experience from the ‘outside-in’, and MOT are unique experiences along each of those journey points. Organizations, in turn, use their perspective by taking an ‘inside-out’ view of this customer journey to identify gaps between expectations & experience and identify MOT where they can take action. None of this would be remotely possible without utilizing the plethora of tools that Design Thinking provides to encourage out-of-box ideation and a fresh perspective.
Finally, it is important to realize what truly matters to the target customer and identify relevant areas for customer experience transformation. Most companies are organized into separate functions and at first glance, it seems easier and practical to identify opportunities for improvement and design initiatives by function. With each function having their own specialized information and experience, they are definitely better suited to help customers at different journey points. Customer Journey, however, cuts across functional boundaries and departmental divides and should ideally be looked at in a comprehensive way. Here the need arises to have a cross-functional digital team to own the customer lifecycle, who can take the baton to ensure buy-in within their departments and become change agents as well. Organizations can leverage agile development methodologies and quickly test and refine ideas generated from this team to create a minimum viable product and test feasibility or scope.
In the end, without gaining and maintaining alignment with key stakeholders, the customer experience transformation may stall midway or might not even take off. A typical customer experience roadmap, just like many far-reaching and complex business programs, often starts with what has already been approved. Starting small in one area can help build credibility and provide momentum for filtering subsequent initiatives which deliver both short- and long-term impact. This should fundamentally be supported by a culture built to embrace change in adopting new business processes and adapting to new technology.