While customer experience (CX) has been a hot topic of discussion in organizations for several years, the focus on CX as a core business strategy has accelerated recently. Customers are increasingly interfacing with companies through both traditional and non-traditional channels, many of them digital. Those customers are doing their own research as they prepare for purchase, while continuing to interact with brands post-purchase for supplemental information and support. Being able to connect with customers where they are - and being able to serve them the appropriate unified messaging, content and visual experience - is critical to building lasting relationships that can result in loyal customers and brand advocates.
Why Does Customer-Centricity Matter to IT?
The ability to implement a unified CX across all customer-facing channels is wholly dependent on the overall culture of customer-centricity in your organization. To be a customer-centric company means to be dedicated to a positive customer experience at every stage of the journey. The goal of customer-centric companies is to build customer loyalty and satisfaction, leading to more referrals and improved retention. Any time a customer-centric business makes a decision, it first considers the effect that decision will have on its customers.
Many leading CIOs and tech leaders are already positioning their departments to move away from a project-based delivery to more customer-focused services. Dave Finnegan, Chief Experience Officer for Orvis, discussed how his company approaches the customer experience. He said, “On the technology side, we’ve stayed focused on investing in customer experiences. We’ve done some great things in re-platforming in-store point of sale and adding new functions to the store and online ordering process, including mobile.”
The biggest barrier to employing customer-centric strategies is the lack of alignment in corporate culture. In many companies today, the culture is either sales-driven or product-based. If customer-centricity is embraced at all, it is typically only by the digital marketing department. For companies to position themselves for success in the transition to a CX-based model, the entire organization - not just the marketing department - needs to shift toward the appropriate mindset.
CIOs can support this transition by repositioning their departments and making the customer experience a cultural mandate. CIOs need to take the lead and champion this new positioning throughout their operations to ensure successful execution enterprise-wide. Sarah Naqvi, CIO for HMSHost, is dedicated to supporting the customer experience. “I see us developing more interactions with customers and with our retail, airport, and airline business,” she told us. “We will continue to collaborate with them for common solutions that keep the customers in mind and improving their experiences.”
Building a Customer-Centric Culture
While executing a cultural shift toward a customer-centric footing is not something that a CIO can undertake alone, CIOs are in positions as senior leaders to foster customer-centric values and processes within their teams and to collaboration with peers in the business to help align IT deliverables to customer-focused initiatives. There are several ways that CIOs can take the lead in shifting their departments away from project delivery to a focus on the customer.
CIOs should start by establishing new core values into their IT departments that will change how developers and support personnel look at the code, platforms and products that they develop and support. But this kind of customer-centric thinking also needs to be a core value of the entire organization, driven from senior management down, with full support from key leaders. Joan Kuehl, CIO at Elevate told us, “I work in tandem with our CEO and business leaders to design and create new products and capabilities that help us achieve our mission of making our customers’ lives ‘good today and better tomorrow."
All staff in IT, even engineers and developers, need to build and embrace a customer empathy mindset, which includes the ability to understand what a customer’s practical and emotional needs may be - and respond to them accordingly. Businesses should be listening to their customers, collecting feedback and multi-channel data, and anticipating their customer needs to provide value back to them. CIOs can begin by encouraging empathy design into their own development work. For example, software engineers should be creating APIs that are easy-to-use for other developers. Encouraging and fostering a UX or CX mindset into development interface design is an excellent step in moving your team towards customer-centricity.
CIOs should work with HR during the hiring process to start vetting IT professionals that either have experience in - or display - some level of customer empathy and understanding. Perhaps they had a previous background in UX design or other customer-facing related technology roles. Customer-focus can also be fostered by tyinhg portions of compensations to customer-centric metrics. CIOs should consider working with their business and marketing partners to establish KPIs to track the impact of culture on customer-centricity, align their teams on those goals, and then offer bonuses or other perks for meeting and exceeding those agreed upon goals.
Building a Data-Driven Culture
Having a data-driven culture is imperative to any CIO who needs to assist their organization in this business model shift. A company needs to understand its customers to know what they are feeling and needing. The best way to do that is to gather customer data from multiple offline and online channels and then unify and analyze it to glean actionable business intelligence. CIOs should be looking for customer data management solutions, like a customer data platform (CDP), to help unify data along with visualization solutions to analyze and deliver guidance to executives. Michael Ricci, CIO at Massachusetts Eye and Ear said, “I’ve brought to my organization tools that enable business intelligence and analytics to assist in the understanding of a patient’s perspective. By analyzing the vast information collected at patient visits, we are actively working to improve the customer experience.”
Tools like AI and machine learning can assist in processing tone and feelings behind customer interactions, as well as offer predictive modeling of customer behavior. Michael Brady, CIO at Market America told us, “Machine learning will continue to disrupt the shopping experience. Instead of having a customer search to find a product, we need to understand the customer as soon as they start interacting with the website and then display the appropriate products via show versus search.”
CIOs can do much to support and enable a customer-centric cultural transition in their organizations. From hiring IT staff who have a tendency towards customer-centric thinking, to shifting their staffs to have a more user-friendly, UX mindset. CIOs should be actively aligning with business leaders on KPIs relevant to this cultural transition and ensure that they align their internal teams to support these new initiatives.
For IT to successfully execute customer-centric strategies, CIOs should ensure that all customer data is unified into a single data management solution, ensuring the appropriate systems and technology are in place to segment and profile customers, along with processes and operational capabilities to target customers with personalized communications and experience.