by Bob Violino

7 ways IT can help cut friction from the customer experience

Nov 19, 201911 mins
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipIT Skills

Top-notch CX is a digital business imperative. Here's how to ensure your organization's customer and client experience is hassle-free.

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Credit: Thinkstock

It’s not enough to provide high-quality products and services. In today’s business market, companies also need to deliver positive experiences for their customers. To that end, organizations are constantly looking for ways to enhance the way they interact with clients, provide services, share information, and respond to queries.

A recent report from research firm Gartner show that 75 percent of 244 organizations surveyed had increased their customer experience (CX) technology investments in 2018, and CIOs are increasingly being pulled in to help.

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One key to delivering a better CX is to reduce or eliminate friction wherever possible. This might include anything from reducing wait times before speaking with a support representative, to ensuring client information is entered correctly on an order form.

“Companies increasingly understand that customers are rarely looking to be delighted or ‘wowed’ by vendors,” says Bill Lee, founder of the Center for Customer Engagement, an organization that provides consulting and research services related to strategic customer engagement. “They want hassle-free.”

Here are some suggestions of how IT can help reduce friction and enhance customer experiences.

Optimize customer-facing technologies

Friction can often be a result of technology not working optimally, and that’s especially damaging for technology customers rely on to conduct transactions.

“We are always seeking to improve our technology and how it impacts the patient experience,” says Ricardo Santiago, senior vice president of technology at healthcare provider Allied Physicians Group.

Allied recently conducted a full overhaul of its website to enhance user experience. With more than 30 pediatric practices and more than 150 practitioners, this was a significant undertaking.

“We identified areas that needed to be improved and we worked closely with the marketing department to ensure that the site maintained the appropriate look and feel [and] had all the appropriate content,” Santiago says.

The organization added new services to the site, such as the ability to request appointments online, pay bills, and access telehealth, a growing area in healthcare that makes it easier for people to gain access to the care they need. Following all the updates, IT reviewed the site to make sure it was easy to navigate and use.

“To remove friction and stress, it was important to us that there be online scheduling, and that patients could do their pre-visit check-ins with data collection [forms] before they arrive,” Santiago says. “This allows the patient to go directly to see the doctor upon arrival. This improves efficiency and patients are seen more rapidly and receive the care that they deserve and expect.”

Allied is working on upgrading its patient portal and mobile technology to make this process even easier for patients and families.

Provide training to maximize efficiency

Employees who deal directly with customers, such as support agents, need to know how to use tools as effectively as possible. If an agent doesn’t fully understand how to access and use data from a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, for example, the technology won’t be of much help for customer service.

“We are strong believers in training,” Santiago says. “Training is constantly being enhanced and we work with all practitioners and staff to ensure that they are not only familiar with the technology that we have, but also how to use it.”

Allied provides video lessons and vignettes to use as both training and reference resources, and it continually expands its reference library.

“When we onboard new staff, we put them through the training and have started to utilize assessments to ensure new staff have a working knowledge of the technology as well as where to go should they have questions,” Santiago says.

Training also includes understanding customer service and communications. “When staff understands how to use technology this allows them to better serve patients as well as show patients how they can leverage technology to make their experiences and interactions better,” Santiago says.

Foster internal collaboration and information sharing

A typical customer transaction or interaction with a company can involve multiple people, and if everyone in the chain is not kept informed and up to date, the customer can fall through the cracks.

Professional services firm Grant Thornton uses a variety of technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, CRM, marketing automation, and social media, to promote better sharing of information and ultimately deliver better CX.

“By linking client contacts directly to our CRM system, client teams are instantly notified and can respond quickly and appropriately, showing the client or potential client that we are responsive, easy to do business with, and invested in helping them solve their business problems,” says Nichole Jordan, national managing partner of markets, clients, and industry at Grant Thornton.

In the past, follow-up on digital interactions with clients could be inconsistent because the firm lacked a universal process to ensure that information or insights gleaned from interactions were shared with the right people internally.

As a result, clients or potential clients whose behavior indicated a need or interest in services — based on how they answered a question online or the kinds of information they accessed on the website — might not have heard from the firm in a timely fashion.

“Today, we have a technology-enabled process to ensure that follow-up is timely, and meaningful,” Jordan says.

For example, if a client’s response to a question on a webcast indicates that the organization still needs help with safeguarding sensitive employee information, the client team at Grant Thornton is immediately made aware of this through an email alert.

The alert includes not only the insight into the client’s challenges, but information that makes it easier for the team to reach out to the client. This might include a relationship map, relevant Grant Thornton content, notification of upcoming firm events on the topic of data privacy and security, and contact information for internal subject matter experts who could bring additional value to the client. 

Implement automation tools to speed processes

Companies can deploy tools such as robotic process automation (RPA) to speed up processing, resulting in faster response times for customer interactions.

Health insurance provider Laya Healthcare processes countless claims for clients on a daily basis, and was struggling to meet its compliance and regulatory requirements as well as its customer service level goals.

Two years ago the firm deployed an RPA platform from Blue Prism to automate back-office tasks, with the goal of processing claims more quickly. The RPA software mirrors the activities of employees on a particular system, interacting with as many applications as needed.

“It does a huge amount of the mundane processing, which ensures all processing is done error-free and on time, and also frees up the time of Laya Healthcare employees to focus on more complex cases,” says Ian Brennan, director of IT. “As a result, we’ve drastically improved the patient experience, data privacy, and safety through the automation of paper-based processes.”

The RPA bots prepare large volumes of claims and ensure that all required steps are completed for every claim prior to it being paid, Brennan says. “Without the RPA digital workforce this [improved] customer service wouldn’t be possible,” he says.

Build an online customer community

Companies have been providing online platforms for customers to meet and share experiences for years, and it’s a tried and true way for clients to more quickly resolve issues and get the most out of the products they’ve purchased.

Enterprise software provider IFS recently created such a community for its customers, offering self-service capabilities, access to how-to content, and the opportunity to share best practices, knowledge, and expertise on a continuous basis.

“Our customers told us they wanted a place where they could help themselves,” as well as the ability to have tailored interactions to help them get more value out of the company’s products, says Michael Ouissi, chief customer officer at IFS. “Within a few days, we had more than 1,000 people registered to the platform, and have appointed a full-time resource to manage the community.”

Via the online platform, the company can proactively educate customers, which is “invaluable to us as we pursue a more frictionless support experience for customers and their end users,” Ouissi says.

To sustain the community as a way to educate and support customers, IFS needs to maintain a flow a valuable content. While insight from IFS experts and partners are both valuable, Ouissi says, the company also encourages customers to contribute as well.

Leverage the cloud

Taking advantage of cloud services can provide benefits to a company as well as its customers. Financial services company PPS is using a combination of software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to add and remove technologies as needed more effectively.

“This means more system stability, scalability on demand, improved project [return on investment], and elasticity,” says Derek Scheepers, head of IT operations. “These benefits then filter to our customers and members in the form of more cost-effective products, faster claims processing, and more innovations,” Scheepers says.

The company also deployed a software-defined wide-area network using technology from Citrix for enhanced connectivity capability, higher speed and lower costs for delivering services.

Prior to moving to the cloud, PPS was running an on-premises data center with aging equipment, and the speed of transactions was slow.

Running queries on data bases took hours, and connecting to applications took a long time, Scheepers says.

The cloud has enabled a current project in which PPS is changing its main underwriting application from being a complex, inefficient process to a more streamlined one that uses microservices. The cloud is also allowing the firm to implement omni-channel capabilities that will give customers the ability to access its systems from a variety of platforms and devices.

Listen to what customers say — and don’t rely entirely on technology

Reducing friction is not just about relying on technology tools to enhance processes and interactions. Sometimes it comes down to hearing what customers want and then making whatever changes are needed to better accommodate them.

“You can drive your business crazy looking for every possible way to reduce friction — and new technologies tend to introduce frustrations of their own,” Lee says. “So, start with what your customers value most about their customer journey.”

Based on conversations Lee has done with CIOs, many are increasingly wary of perceptions that they tend to “throw technology” at problems. “My observation is that they want to be perceived as more selective, and strategic, about the use of technology solutions,” he says. “They want to address ‘why’ questions, not the ‘how.’”

CIOs should partner with marketing, sales, services, and other areas of the company that touch customer experience, to map out the customer journey as customers want to experience it, Lee says.

Then they need to measure what they’re doing to make sure the company is delivering what’s needed.

“It’s critical that the CIO understand and speak the language of the customer and the journey [the customer] wants to take,” Lee says. Otherwise, the CIO is “part of the frequent problem we see of companies throwing too many resources toward [customer experience] initiatives that don’t make a dent in the customer’s actual experience.”

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