Building a world class CX

In digital transformation, customer experience is a major path forward for multiple digital business models. But are CIOs ready to help serve it up?

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In the new book, “What is Your Digital Business Model”,  Peter Weill and Stephanie Woerner claim that no longer can CIOs be merely responsible for back office systems or simply be ‘order takers’. Success at transformation for consumer-focused businesses, they say, depends on a CIO’s ability to drive their enterprise’s capabilities to integrate, create a multichannel experience, or a single view of customer or services that couple products with data. This importantly means CIOs need to become obsessive about innovation, and deeply engaged with their counterparts especially Chief Marketing Officers. In order to do this, CIOs need firsthand knowledge of customer pains, so they can determine the initiatives that will create a better customer experience.

What goes into a world class CX?

CIOs believe customer experience (CX) starts with corporate reputation. Reputation, say CIOs, includes brand, corporate leadership, and employees. CIOs believe that CX is an extension and manifestation of reputation which in turn reflects corporate culture. According to branding expert, Dave Aaker, “brand equity is a set of brand assets and liabilities linked to a brand that add or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and to a firm’s customers.”

With this said, CIO believe that lots of experimenting goes into a world class CX. Enabling this is the seamless transfer of data and integration of functionalities and devices. To succeed requires careful thought and priority. This includes deep knowledge of the customer. This involves proactive design toward meeting customer needs. According to Sunil Gupta, Theodore Levitt suggested it is a problem when firms focus on products and not enough on customer needs.

CIOs say like Levitt everything starts with the customer. It is essential that leaders analyze them in detail and solve the root cause of their problems, not just treat the symptoms. CIOs say being customer focused requires a CIO to be proactive students of their company’s customer problems. This includes knowing how customers use and process information. CIOs believe that it is a mistake to start with a capability and work the other way around.

CIOs suggest that CX should be easy and a low-burden for the customer. This is what customer focused is about. CIOs are clear that being world class has tangible cost. A ‘world class' CX requires a customer-centric belief system that’s embedded into the strategy and vision of the organization so that employees can buy-in. Additionally, CIOs say that today experience needs to be consistently delivered across all channels. This requires that systems be integrated. This requires that organizations move from ‘systems of record’ to ‘systems of engagement’ and build innovative user interfaces across all customer touch points. This cannot be accomplished without innovation, development, and support. It is essential that marketing leaders realize that each transaction either extends or detracts from the customer relation.

Who matters most important in driving CX?

CIOs had a variety of answers. It's the person or interface that is right in front of the customer. CIOs suggested that good UI and basic empathy can cover many organizational ills. CIOs said how close is the company to what they need? What Theodore Levitt labeled the Augmented or Whole Product. Or from a technology perspective, the contextual inference--can you get to the customer's perceived need?

CIOs suggested that happy employees who serve the customer inevitably result in good customer experience. For this reason, many CIOs suggest the 1st customer of organization is the employee. As Zappos has shown, having happy and engaged employees creates the potential for excellent CX for the 2nd customer, the buyer. CIOs suggest there is a clear trickledown effect. If your employees are happy your customers will be happy. Your people clearly are your best assets when it comes to CX.

CIOs suggest that CX is one of those moments where values are either put into action or not. CIOs say all too often "values" are only values when they're convenient. Clearly, winners find ways for values to be lived out when it is not convenient.

While CIOs insist the person delivering the product to the customer at the point of interaction matters, they believe everyone is responsible for establishing a customer focused culture. CIOs say this is not a process, it is a mindset. It is a culture that starts with leadership. Helping here should be a healthy mix of direct customer feedback and creativity.

Tiffani Bova, former analyst and customer experience thought leader at Salesforce, added onto the discussion here by saying that a brand is the sum of all customer touch points. The “last mile” can quickly destroy all the prior work, but if your customers trust you to put them first, they will forgive a damaged shipment because they know you will make it right. Strong CX is a culture not a to-do list”.

Creating value through customer experience

In “Driving Digital Strategy”, Sunil Gupta says it is more difficult these days to create product differentiation. Organizations, for this reason need to shift to “creating value thru experience”. CIOs believe that most business leaders "think" they understand what digital transformation requires, but most do not. Creating business value thru customer experience is a factor, but also is integration of customers, partners, and even competitors in a platform to create a bigger value proposition.

Digital strategy is only as good as the execution and implementation of that strategy. There are plenty of opportunities for differentiation across digital, but CIOs say that we need to remember that people provide the biggest differentiation. This means customer experience comes down first to culture and then to how we enable people and automated systems to deliver it.

CIOs suggest that it is important to know as well what your customer value. You need to know how to change to improve it and make sure resource alignment is on the right targets. And in today’s world technology can help enable and, in some cases, drive experience. The question is how you have designed your platform of people, process, and technology to provide an adaptable and engaging CX. You can innovate the product, but when products get commoditized, differentiation comes through business model and experience. For this reason, UX needs to increasingly be considered as part of the business model and CX.

Are data and customers critical business assets?

In many cases, customer data comes from improved CX and the associated engagement, in effect, it feeds into a virtuous cycle. Data, if leveraged properly, should impact the existing CX. It should reveal the potholes for repairs and where new thoroughfares should be constructed.

Data is more than the ‘new oil’.  Data is the currency of your future ability to operate.  Each industry is seeing pace evolve to rapidly identify context, correlate opportunity, and execute.  Treat data accordingly. Find it’s context. But CIO’s say don’t lose empathy

CX is about investing in relationships. All the data and technology can be inconsequential if the relationship is not nurtured positively. Governance and quality of data remain paramount. In addition, trying to work with customers (internal/external) to find opportunities for self-service. One CIO said that they are amazed at how few clients invest in their customer relationship. What is clearly needed is “fanatical customer service” and systems and data to support it.

What is most difficult in driving CX?

CIOs say employees, customers, and suppliers are all part of the same system/value chain. Optimizing only for the customer CX is likely to make your employees unhappy. Optimizing the whole system is tougher but potentially more rewarding over time.

Given this, fixing company culture and the associated priorities is always the first step. No technology, leadership change, organization realignment or yelling will solve for a failed culture. One CIO insisted here the top 3 priorities must be Culture. Culture. Culture

Many organizations don't have a firm understanding or a way to collaborate on what a "world class CX" means to them. This sometimes leads to a debate on "ownership". Getting a shared understanding of CX value/drivers and defining success is most important. Once this has occured, CX is about getting all involved parties to leave their silos, drop egos, and understand why this is being done. The greatest influences on this process are exerted by leadership and organizational culture. 

As part of the culture, leaders need to also acquire the right people with the right skills. Not technical skills but the soft skills that truly make the CX exceptional. Clearly, culture needs to be fostered, not demanded. Culture is a shared vision, agreed on by respect and enablement to do the right thing. CIOs say culture is an attitude. Culture is not free candy or lunches or bigger bonuses or even pushing loudly for philanthropy. It is maintaining and casting a client-first vision.

Parting remarks

I honestly expected that much of the discussion here would be about the importance of fixing customer data and creating automation, but this is clearly not the first step to a great CX. The first step is creating priority with the right people. Fix this and then automation can aide in delivering a great CX. Lot’s of wisdom in these words for CIOs, CMOs, and even CEOs.

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