The Big Kahuna of New Year’s resolutions: An unrelenting focus on the customer

As businesses accelerate their digital strategies, an unrelenting focus on customer experience is essential.

It’s that time of year where many of us make resolutions. Eat less, exercise more – the usual suspects. And, with the financial year ticking over for many businesses, executives too are reviewing the strategies needed to support one critical resolution – delivering a superior customer experience.

The smart ones amongst us recognize that the game has changed. Customers place less emphasis of physical things and more on digital experiences. Sure, businesses still manufacture products, but they now wrap them in software services. Every vehicle manufacturer worth their salt now include infotainment and diagnostic services in the price of a new car, while mobile device differentiation is increasingly driven by software apps and accessories.

The digital economy has also had a profound effect on software delivery. Purposeful adoption of cloud means that businesses don’t just build and deliver software to customers, they actually operate it on their behalf. Like the German industrial powerhouse Bosch, who now offers a cloud-based connected vehicle fleet management diagnostics system that enables their customers to analyze and optimize fleet safety, security and energy capabilities.

Customer focus – easier said than done

Customer focus forces businesses to adopt strategies that at face value seem counterintuitive. The old bedrocks of business viability – stability and efficiency, now give way to innovation and agility, meaning businesses must shorten cycles, increase the pace of software delivery, and adopt a mindset where experimentation becomes a natural element of the organizational mantra. Working in an environment where the power has shifted from business to customer, means companies must engender creativeness across the entire organization and ferociously eliminate any waste that impedes it. Silo’d driven organizations, manual processes and narrowly-focused tooling not only restrict the continuous delivery of software needed for experimentation, but also increase frustration and friction across groups.

Leading organizations employ modern agile practices that better align previously fractured teams around business goals and customer-centric outcomes. Rather than have separate dev and ops teams organized by tech function, they fuse these into units collectively responsible and accountable for specific business goals. Each of these could contain business analyst, developers, DBAs, sysadmins and so. Many organizations also form horizontal cross-team groups where specialists (like front-end developers) get together to share ideas and knowledge. Spotify, who are probably the best exponent of this model go even further, organizing communities (or guilds) that have common interests irrespective of an individual’s own area specialization.

Re-engineering organizational structure, process and tooling is important when we consider the ways customers engage digitally. Now the majority of customer interactions take place across a number of channels via mobile or web application services. In this landscape, a brand isn’t assessed on the functional richness of software alone, but on how well the digital services operate, perform and can rapidly change to support evolving customer needs on any channel – everything is indistinguishable. It’s critical therefore for IT as a whole to align itself with business and customer needs, rather than dictating business align itself to a myopically-driven technology agenda.

From silo’d engagement to end-to-end customer journeys

Unfortunately today, organizations only consider individual points of engagement when they focus on customer experience – like web channels, call-centers etc. It’s not surprising because again it often reflects the organizational structure. But performance can only be improved by ‘standing in the shoes of the customer’ and examining experience along an entire journey. Take for example an insurance claim process where a customer can interact with a business from numerous channels (physical, digital business and 3rd parties) conducted over a variable timespan. While each of these channels could be performing well and meeting KPIs, it’s the end-to-end experience of the customer that truly shapes performance. Gain this kind of visibility and reap the benefits of increased satisfaction, revenue and customer satisfaction. Lose it, and prepare for customer churn, increased cost and low staff morale.

Neglectful IT tooling can worsen the situation. Take for example operational monitoring. Today, most products are designed and engineered for silo’d teams and lack the flexibility needed to support modern customer-centric structures. These tools do an adequate job of detecting problems associated with discrete technology areas, but lack the context and insights cross-functional teams need to drive purposeful improvements across every customer journey. In the aforementioned insurance claims journey, a traditional monitoring product can pinpoint problems leading to slow web response time, but fail miserably at helping the business determine where and how increased performance can lead to reduced claims processing time.

Poor tooling exacerbates misalignment and negatively impedes organizational agility and growth. When teams are focused on monitoring narrow technology views, the flexibility needed to support broader business goals is limited. Worse, technical dexterity atrophies, with teams lacking the ability or inclination to manage the modern systems needed to future-proof a business.

As businesses accelerate their digital strategies, an unrelenting focus on customer experience is essential. Seek out enabling practices and tooling that helps IT address the transformative shift underway and aligns everyone behind common goals.

 


Peter Waterhouse, Senior Strategist at CA Technologies, is a business technologist with 20+ years’ experience…

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