Companies can win by putting customers first. Here’s how IT can help them do it right.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

June 19, 2023

5 Min Read
Concept illustrating satisfactory customer experience.
Jinda Noipho via Alamy Stock

Companies focus on redesigning business processes for efficiency and cost savings, but developing systems and processes for an optimal customer experience still lags. It lags despite the fact that optimizing customer experiences (or CX) with companies has been an expressed goal for over 60 years. And, it lags despite the fact that poor customer service costs companies between $75 billion to $1.6 trillion annually.

Senior management adviser Faizan M. Syed believes that companies must keep the customer in mind throughout every phase of operations and systems.

“If you want your business to be truly customer-centric, you want all your teams (and their goals) -- from marketing to product development -- to be aligned,” said Syed. “Team KPIs (key performance indicators) should be customer oriented and employee compensation should be tied to the customer experience. Only with these shifts, will you be able to motivate your internal teams and your employees to work towards the common goal that is customer success.”

What Syed doesn’t mention is that none of this holistic approach to the customer can be achieved without significant systems and integration work, which is the province of IT. This means integrating all customer information feeds into a central CRM (customer relationship management) system; facilitating communications between all customer touch points and devices; ensuring seamless order taking, order fulfillment and when needed, order return and troubleshooting processes; and providing self-service options to customers. IT also must ensure that departments seemingly outside of the customer dialogue, such as engineering, manufacturing and finance, are also linked in to what’s going on.

The magic sauce that makes all of this happen is systems integration. Together with business process design, it can form the foundation for an excellent customer experience.

Here’s how IT fits in:

Systems Integration

Most mid- to large-sized enterprises already have CRM systems. That’s good news for IT because commercial CRM systems come turnkey with an assortment of APIs (application programming interfaces) and plug-ins that enable the CRM systems to intake and send information to other systems throughout the company.

The purpose of CRM systems has always been to serve as a central repository for all things customer. It was to link customer-focused departments such as sales, marketing, and customer service and support into this centralized information source so all could have a 360-degree view of the customer. Having these shared connections and information really helps, but does it go far enough for a truly customer-centric company?

Finance wants an easy way to know the profit margins of each product, and if there are troubling statistics such as excessive returns for particular products.

Engineering wants feedback on which product enhancements customers would like to see next, and information about product returns that might prompt a change in a product design specification.

Manufacturing also wants to see product returns data. Can manufacturing processes be improved for greater product quality?

Product line managers and executive management want reports and analytics that give them insight on the total product sales and customer satisfaction picture for the company.

Not all of this information is readily available from a single CRM system.

This is where IT can add value by effecting the necessary integrations, developing analytics, etc., so that other stakeholders in the company customer experience have access.

Front-Line Customer Experience Workflows

The customer-facing departments are sales, customer service and technical support. These functions need seamless workflows so they best can serve customers, and they need to communicate with each other.

Of these three, customer service is usually the most challenged. The challenges begin in the call center, where that first “front line” -- the customer agents -- is not necessarily the most product-savvy. These agents might exist within the company itself, or they can be half a world away.

The keys for front-line customer service are having call scripts and prompts with an on-hand knowledge base that can assist agents in answering customer questions. If a customer issue is overly complex and they can’t address it, front-line agents need an easy way to get a second line subject-matter expert on the call.

From a systems standpoint, a CRM system might give a front-line agent basic customer account history information, but the workflow from the front line to the subject matter expert must also be designed and tested.

What has been happening is that these workflows get designed, but the metrics and the testing for the handoffs between agents, and for the time that elapses between them, aren’t defined, tested or implemented as well as they should be. The customer then experiences the results in the form of a dropped call, an inordinately long wait time, or an agent who cannot solve an issue.

This handoff workflow is one workflow that the business and IT need to improve.

Customer Self-Service Portals

Whether it is a website, a voice-based phone automation system, a kiosk, or something else, customers enjoy self-service when it is intuitive, well designed, and it works.

Websites with “still under construction” areas would be better served if deployments are delayed until they are 100% ready. Chats, especially if they use automation, should be programmed to immediately hand customers off to a real human agent as soon as the conversation becomes too technical or complex. When it comes to options and layers of options in phone trees that customers must navigate and select from, less is more.

Each of these examples falls under the category of “human factors engineering” (i.e., testing a system or function for human usability).

In the IT process, human factors such as usability should be as comprehensively tested as bugs in code, and they should be made part of the quality assurance process. For example, what metric do you want to set for the maximum amount of time a customer should be placed on hold in a phone call? What are the trigger points in an automated chat dialogue that should transfer the customer to a human agent?

Summary Remarks

In 2021, Gartner VP and Analyst Augie Ray wrote: "In today’s uncertain times, it is getting harder for marketing leaders to build customer confidence in their brands, increase customer satisfaction and drive customer loyalty. Customer experience is key to exceeding your customers’ expectations.”

Marketers, sales, service and top-level management know this. They all strategize on how to deliver a superior customer experience, and central to nearly every conversation is obtaining the quality IT that can deliver it.

This is where IT really shines.

What to Read Next:

Not A Typical CIO: Lessons Learned as Chief Insights Officer

Why Your Digital Onboarding Is Driving Away Customers

Accelerating Digital Transformation: Turning Data into CX

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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