by Myles F. Suer

IT’s role in managing the customer journey

Aug 13, 2019
CIOTechnology Industry

Customer experience (CX) today is paramount to more and more businesses. While technology has a role to play in CX, the starting point is understanding the friction created at each touch point within the customer journey.

CIOs clearly need to get closer to their firm’s marketing team and the CMO. Marketing, for most, is the major stakeholder for what IT does in digital transformation. For this reason, I wanted to understand what the role of IT has been in mapping the customer journey. Specifically, what role does IT have in helping marketing discover customer touch points and resolve their points of friction?

Is CX paramount to your organization’s success?

CIOs started by saying that IT and digital transformation are ubiquitous. So yes, there is an IT role in the customer journey. CIOs have gotten wise and say having on-par products, on price, fit, quality, etc. enables their organizations to compete more effectively. They say CX is what keeps customers around. The CIOs perspective fits with the research Forrester has done on the positive business returns resulting from good customer experience.

CIOs believe that customers are important to their organizations and see CX as an essential step forward. CIOs effectively quoted Theodore Levitt by saying the augmented product is why customers buy again. Theodore Levitt, also, suggested that “the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer” (Marketing Myopia, Harvard University Press). This is why in the digital age CX has become so critical. And buyers always have ‘viable’ options–depending on how angry an organization makes them.

One educational CIO said here that although it’s unpopular in higher education to equate students and parents with consumers, they have choices too. Their experience matters. Connectedness to faculty and the institution matters in persistence and graduation. So, in short, CX matters in higher education.

It seems clear that CX provides the customer, regardless of industry, with the primary perception of the value an organization provides. If your systems are difficult, complex, or hard to understand, in today’s world where customers want everything now, they will move on to somewhere else. This is driving a higher expectation from customers for instant gratification and rather than having differentiated customer service based on humans, it is now largely based on interactions with systems–the direct domain of CIOs and IT. Organizations must deliver omnichannel experiences, responsive customer service, voice of customer, and customer-centricity to retain and grow their revenue.

For this reason, CIOs need to have a prominent role in mapping and improving the customer journey. At the same time, it is important to recognize that an organization’s reputation can be impaired when it does not deliver customer satisfaction. If a technical problem gets fixed, but customers still have a bad experience, then you have failed as a business.

CIOs say the question that many organizations need to answer is, which customer experience are they designed for. Whose customer experience matters does not always have a simple answer, but it is critical to provide a CX that optimizes customer experience including for those that service customers. Customers, today, want a flexible, fast, channel-of-choice. This has implications to the CRM and contact center solutions. As suggested above, organizations need to make it easily for service agents to service customers. Here, UX can have a significant impact.

CIOs need to think about all the needless obstacles created because their organization focuses on business processes versus user processes. Geoffrey Moore, a few years ago, suggested that it is time for organizations to move from systems of record (made friendly for machines) to systems of engagement (made friendly for humans). It is time to provide exceptional CX.

How many systems touch customers? Do customers have one experience across them?

CIOs say for most organizations, unfortunately, the answer is multiple systems and no consistent experience across touch points. Whether a great CX is delivered depends upon the customer’s need for information. For this reason, CX should represent a conduit for information and customer journey mapping should define how many systems are involved in answering or solving customer problems.

Additionally, Forrester today is projecting CX being delivered by an increasing number of “micro apps.” A micro app provides single functionality, allowing the users to solve a precise problem or satisfy a specific need without having to navigate through a large and complex application.

The problem is that whether it’s an ER visit or elective surgery–you will remember your experiences, good or bad, and tell your friends. CIOs say, for this reason, CX demands that you break down organizational siloes. From a “plumbing” perspective, there are lots of things that need to be connected including CRM, ERP, analytics, and more. Clearly, there are many disparate technology elements and functions. Yet too few have a single, omnichannel view nor full transparency from a system of engagement. This is a problem across multiple industries. Systems have different interfaces. Most IT-types can easily self-adapt. Most non-IT users have difficulty with simple things. Breaking down silos?

At many organizations, CX is fragmented and dis-integrated. Most organizations have one system for external customers but many for internal customers. This is supplemented with a few dashboards or cockpits for internal users to determine how well they are getting their jobs done. CIOs say their customers need to move data across many apps and re-input data from process to process. For this reason, they say silos block improvement. Yet it is a fundamental point of digital transformation– customers need to have a connected consistent experience. This is something that most digital of companies have a leg up on legacy companies.

Do your customer service personnel need to navigate multiple systems to help customers?

CIOs directionally agreed on this topic, but their maturity varied. One CIO said that it is their lifegoal to have fewer than 10 systems for customer service personnel to navigate. Clearly, this is not a good answer. CIOs believe that the experience of service professionals matters a lot in the end to customers. They claim if we make them jump through hoops to get their jobs done, they’ll leave. CIOs say if a customer representative needs to say ‘hold on, I have to check another system, they are in this instant creating bad CX.

CIOs asked how often do you hear a sorry, just waiting for the system to update/load/unfreeze while a customer is on the phone? And why, if a customer just gave all their information to the automated attendant to get to a customer service representative, do they have to give it again with each transfer to a human? CIOs believe where things are ugly and expose detrimental CX,  it is time to break down those silos.  

Customer-centricity clearly is based upon he customer journey. IT leaders need look at customer journeys and then start counting systems that impact them. They will find more if they start with systems first. Unfortunately, the mess is often considered normal and this is, clearly, not a good thing. Making matters worse, some companies still have to go back to systems or data that were replaced. This makes the customer journey even tougher.

CIOs believe that customer service representatives should not have to jump thru hoops. The goal should be to deliver frictionless work and experiences. Sadly, when organizations fail to see the value of fixing things for the customer, they allow complexity and cost to remain. Most contact centers—especially those where there are multiple lines of business — create process, technology, and CX by business unit. One CIO ended this part of the conversation by talking about the mess of their recent personal calls to Blue Cross and customer service. They gave their information 3 times to both and was on hold for 20 minutes while they were getting checked out. They said this is not their idea of good CX.

Has your organization mapped customer journey touch points?

Many CIOs said that they have mapped out the touch points. However, they say that defining the experience is critical. The steps to the process, say CIOs, is 1) mapping; 2) socializing what it means; and 3) determining how to interact with the customer internally and externally.

A common problem for companies that have done customer journey mapping is trying to use their customer journey map when their information is still maturing. According CDOs at the MIT CDOIQ, this can involve establishing data processes or even data literacy. CIOs are clear that there are islands of understanding, but some lines of business are literally firewalled, with no ability to track their journey directly. At this point, Adriana Karaboutis, CIO for the National Grid and former CIO for Ford, GM, and Dell, said “we’ve mapped touch points and are marrying them to imagine a world where those touch points aren’t just improved but reimagined”. Henry Ford, she said, “didn’t ask how much faster the horses should be…he made cars. Think big and then go bigger. And define a North Star”.

Clearly, there is no magic bullet. You need people with process mapping expertise first to do the hard work of figuring out pain points and to determine how to change and streamline them. Once that groundwork is laid, you can consider tools to improve them.

Are you working to create low-code business processes as a means to enable better experience for customers and those that service them?

Many CIOs say that they are deploying low code applications across their organizations, but they do not have a specific program around using it for CX. Other CIOs suggested that low code creates the potential for excellence at CX. However, they worry how well they integrate and play well with others. CIOs clearly see low code/no code as a facet but perhaps not the only one to drive the overall CX journey. It’s definitely an enabler to get more citizen developers/citizen data scientists involved in the work.

If an organization is focused more on single-responsibility information services that provide the raw data, we could easily mash up reports and processes on the fly. But without low/no code solutions have little to build on. CIOs say the key players have changed low code and thereby, CX.

Customers vote with their voice and with the technology that they use. CX matters. One CIO observed that the biggest thing he sees as a customer is when a company has both a web site and iOS/ Android apps, and they have different look and feels or function differently between interfaces. It is key to have people who can map the gaps of the current state and drive out better CX. There are no silver bullets. Fixing things demands leadership capital and courage, change management, and a customer-obsessed culture. Yes, there are tools to help but they are support and not the solution.

After the conclusion of this week’s #CIOChat, I received one last comment. It summarized so well the discussion I’ll end with it here. It was from Phil Komarny, former CDO for the University of Texas and now VP of Innovation at Salesforce. He said, “CIOs should stand for the conductor of an information orchestra. Journey mapping is the first step to making beautiful music for customers.”