How CIOs can take the lead on delivering a world-class digital customer experience

By Mark Weaser, Vice President, APAC, OutSystems

As more and more consumer transactions are carried out online, and as consumers’ expectations for digital experiences get higher and higher, digital Customer Experience (CX) is more important than ever. And this is now a critical responsibility for the CIO. But what does great CX really mean? And how can CIOs go about delivering it?

According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of companies compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. If a company offers its customers a mediocre experience, switching to the products or services of competitors is only a few clicks away.

While most CIOs were already acutely aware of this, 2020 has put additional pressure on them to deliver on their companies’ digital CX ambitions. According to the 2020 Harvey Nash – KPMG CIO Survey, customer engagement ranks alongside operational efficiency at the top of the list of priorities, as was the case in 2019. But Covid-19 has changed the purpose of what customer engagement means, with the development of new channels to market with and the creation of more and better digital experiences for customers emerging as critical.

However, being able to fulfil their company’s needs for innovation and their customers’ ever-increasing expectations means overcoming a number of hurdles confronting most CIOs intent on realizing their digital CX transformation mission.

The first is resources. IT organisations were already buried under huge backlogs, struggling to hire sufficiently qualified staff. IT still spends far too much time and energy just keeping the lights on (KTLO) with existing systems. In a recent survey of CIOs, IT leaders, and financial decision-makers, 77 per cent believed that this was a major hurdle for their organisation.

But these resource constraints exist at a time when the demands from businesses to launch new, innovative digital products to serve customers are greater than ever. In fact, most of the industry reports suggest that the majority of consumers who turned – some for the first time – to digital channels when branches were closed and call centres overwhelmed will continue to do so even after business as usual resumes.

This means that creating, maintaining, extending, and even rebuilding customer-facing applications at speed is now critical for any company that wants to thrive in 2021 and beyond. CIOs are under intense pressure to do more with less – and more quickly – than ever before.

What does great digital CX mean?
There is also a fundamental issue at play here, related to the understanding of what a great digital CX really consists of.

It might be tempting to think that a great user experience is synonymous with a great customer experience, and while that might have been the case in the first days of digital disruption, it is no longer true. Irrefutably, a user-friendly UX/UI that is beautifully designed and boasts lightning-fast performance does have a big positive impact on customer satisfaction. But great digital CX goes far beyond that:

● Great CX is effortless: customers are impatient and they expect everything to be easy and “right now”. Great customer experience is about how easy you make it to do business with you. For example, a recent study by thefinancialbrand.com shows that it can take anywhere from 21 to 120 clicks to open a new account in a bank. But it goes even beyond just clicks. Delivering an effortless experience also means:
○ Allowing customers to choose how they interact with you rather than imposing a channel upon them – a good digital CX strategy means delivering applications on mobile, web, chat, voice and AR/VR so that customers can use whatever channel is most convenient to them. Using their phone’s camera to capture an image of an identification card means one-click data entry versus dozens to hand-enter all the information.
○ Automating and optimising the processes that support your customer journeys – so you can deliver customer outcomes right now. Going back to the account opening example, if after only 24 clicks a customer still needs to wait five days to get confirmation on their new account because a customer service rep needs to validate their information, frustration rather than satisfaction is the most likely outcome.

● Great CX is consistent: according to Forrester, 95 per cent of customers use three or more channels to interact with a company in a single service interaction. Their experience is shaped not by how great their interaction with a single channel is, but rather by a cluster of interactions across multiple channels. This means that whatever digital experiences you deliver, they must not only be top-notch in and of themselves but also truly omnichannel and unified so that customers can transition seamlessly between the various channels without having to re-enter information or repeat steps. Doing so requires a deep level of data integration so that applications can harness data from multiple systems across the company – whether it’s CRM systems, core systems or legacy applications. It also requires that you create applications that allow customer service reps to access real-time customer data easily so they can service customers effectively, when customer inquiries require human intervention.

● Great CX is personalised: some of the top reasons customers abandon digital user journeys are having to navigate a lot of information until they find what they are looking for or having to deal with complex forms that require too much manual typing. Again, ensuring you can leverage customer data to deliver personalized experiences and avoid asking customers to re-enter information you already have is critical.

● Great CX generates delight: customer expectations keep rising and their needs keep changing. Ensuring you can keep pace and continue finding new ways to delight customers is critical. This means continuously collecting customer data from your applications, iterating on them to remove friction and meet emerging customer needs, and uncovering new ways to delight customers by making their lives easier with new technologies like AI or IoT.

Great digital CX doesn’t live in a vacuum
As this list makes clear, great digital CX spans the entire waterfront of enterprise development and does not simply refer to creating new customer applications that look and behave well.

To deliver great CX, you have to address multiple areas of digital transformation. You have to automate and optimise the communication and orchestration of workflows spanning multiple services and systems, creating front-office and back-office applications that employees can use easily to respond to customer requests quickly. And you need to easily connect to, extend and even fully modernise aging systems that might not be delivering the business functionality you need to deliver a great experience on your customer applications.

The problem is that, typically, software vendors concentrate on only one of the four areas listed above: as a result, off-the-shelf software that approaches complex and inter-related problems on a standalone basis invariably requires complex integrations and extensive workarounds that hamper the delivery of good CX rather than enhance it – and do nothing to reduce the workload on the IT department. Traditional development, on the other hand, means companies take months or even years to build everything they need to achieve their ideal digital CX.

Becoming a truly customer-centric organisation – the dream state envisaged by all CIOs – requires the breaking down of technology silos and the dramatic acceleration of the speed of development – but these old approaches put them further from ever getting to the place where they can be the key drivers of their company’s digital CX transformation.

A new approach to digital CX
The time is right for a modern application platform that tackles the complex challenges of CX transformation at its root, rather than treating the symptoms individually. A platform that unifies and simplifies omnichannel development, so you can create new customer apps for any channel using a single platform and development team, moving much faster than traditional development without compromising on flexibility and quality. One that delivers consistent, omnichannel customer journeys by easily allowing the reuse of application components across your entire application portfolio. One you can use to streamline and automate the processes that support your customer journeys. A platform that can connect to and extend any system, while allowing you to modernise your legacy systems in months instead of years. All of this can enable you to create enterprise-grade applications fast, that are built for change.

Only then will CIOs be able to close – perhaps even eliminate – the gap between what the business is asking of them and what they are realistically able to deliver.

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