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Customer Experience Is King, but CIOs Could Do More to Help

IT rarely leads customer experience projects, but there is so much IT already knows that can really help drive success with such projects.

Mary E. Shacklett

January 10, 2024

5 Min Read
Hand holding a silver crown before gray background
Ezio Gutzemberg via Alamy Stock

At a Glance

  • Customer experience should be broken down into specific goals.
  • System integration is key to creating an effective customer experience.
  • An easy-to-understand user interface is imperative for customer experience project success.

McKinsey defines customer experience (CX) as encapsulating “everything a business or an organization does to put customers first, managing their journeys and serving their needs.”

From an IT perspective, this means that e-commerce sites capably fulfill customer orders, exchanges and returns; in-person retail outlets do the same; and all customer-facing channels (online, brick and mortar, etc.) cross-communicate with each other. CX should mean those channels provide a 360-degree view of the entire customer experience as the customer sees it; customer self-service options work; and customer questions about products and orders are promptly and accurately answered.

The principal IT ingredients for these customer-facing operations are integration of multiple systems and channels; analytics and quality data that can predict what customers are going to ask for and order; and effective business and system process flows.

There is virtually no CIO who doesn’t understand this or who can’t speak to it in a boardroom. But does this conceptual understanding translate to the work and projects IT performs in order to facilitate an excellent customer experience?

IT’s Customer Experience Goals

The end goal for most IT projects addressing the customer experience is to get these projects out the door on time. Success is measured by the timely completion of tasks. And it is left to the user -- whether it be sales, customer service, a standalone retail business unit, or a call center -- to figure out how the customer experience should present itself to the customer, and to define the business goals.

Related:How to Build Privacy By Design Into Customer Experience

The very nature of how customer experience projects get defined and shepherded places IT at the back of the room, as an executor of tasks but not as a strategic leader.

Is this bad? Not necessarily, considering that the end business units interacting with the customer ostensibly have expertise in dealing with customers, and are in the best position to know what customers want. However, as technology becomes a more integral element of the selling, informing, fulfillment and servicing of customers, there also is unique expertise that IT brings to the table. It can be invaluable in improving the customer experience, and that can also avert disaster.

What the Business Wants

Being able to sell non-stop, 24/7 to worldwide customers is a major driver of e-commerce, as is the ability to provide customers with self-service options that can reduce internal operational costs for companies. Analytics, which can assess an individual customer or demographic buying habits and anticipate what customers will want to buy next are seen as beneficial. A front line of chat and phone robots that can answer basic customer questions (e.g., ‘Why is my order running late?’) is also seen as an operational savings because it reduces the need for human agents.

Related:How AI will Help Cloud Practitioners Create Customer Value

Many of these initiatives, especially self-service, are well received by customers -- that is, when they work. The problem is that many of these operations don’t always work.

Take CX to the Next Level

How many times have you been moved from one agent to another (or one robot to another) on a phone call, and asked to repeat your account number, which you already gave when you initially started the call? Or you clicked on a website feature, only to find that that area of the site was still under construction?

As consumers most of us have experienced these issues, and both are areas where IT can help.

Here’s how:

System Integration

When systems are successfully integrated, data can be passed between them. And, when the data is of high quality, everyone touching any system in the customer experience process chain will see the same data.

Companies aspire to this degree of integration, but most don’t have it. This is why call center representatives and automated attendants ask you to repeat your account number in every successive step. Online and in-person stores whose companies have opted to classify them as separate business entities have separate systems for online and brick and mortar sites that can’t cross-communicate. So, customers get frustrated.

Related:Let Customer Experience Guide Processes, Systems

IT can remedy this by performing total system and data integrations, or it can at least raise the issue that these activities should be included in customer experience projects.

The User Interface

When self-service websites are confusing and difficult to navigate, or portions of sites are incomplete, customers become discouraged and abandon them.

IT can do two things to improve the online user experience:

It can advocate for a quality assurance (QA) usability test by non-technically savvy user-customers to see how intuitively a site can be navigated and understood; and it can advocate that sites don’t go live with sections still “under construction.”

In cases where it is imperative for a website to get to market quickly, areas of the site that will take longer to develop can be added later, along with their navigation. There should be no “under construction” signs.

Summary Remarks

CIOs understand that IT is seldom the lead on customer experience projects. They also know that IT’s inherent knowledge of how systems and even business processes work can go a long way in ensuring that the technology being inserted into the customer experience works.

This is why one of the foremost business leadership roles CIOs (and their IT teams) can take in customer experience projects is by emphasizing optimal customer engagement through the effective integration of systems and data, and advocating for a full QA of e-commerce sites by non-technical customer-users to ensure that customer ease of use is there before sites go live.

This doesn’t mean that every recommendation IT makes will be accepted, but at least the recommendations are there -- and likely to be followed when processes don’t work as planned.

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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