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Five critical actions CIOs should take to improve the customer experience

Actions include upgrading IT roles, amending measurements, structural changes and a cultural shift from internal to external

The advent of mobile and digital mechanisms for engaging customers has highlighted the increasingly crucial relationship between technology management and the customer experience

Forrester’s Customer Experience (CX) Index measures and ranks more than 900 brands, across 18 verticals, in eight global markets, based on the quality of their customer experience and how that affects customer loyalty.

How can IT organisations improve their scores? To determine this, we reviewed Forrester’s previous CX Index research and interviewed technology management leaders in three organisations that had improved their scores significantly – United Healthcare, The Home Depot and Dell.

In this initial round of research, we found that CIOs who want to improve customer experience must: ensure that measurements reflect customer experience; add customer-focused technology management roles; create customer-oriented teams; create a customer-impact culture; focus on global over local.

Technology management can contribute to customer experience in more ways than simply building and deploying systems on time and on budget. From information gained through interviews and reviews of customer-oriented business transformations, we have developed an initial list of critical technology management actions that will improve customer experience. These include upgrades to several IT roles, changes to measurements, some structural changes and a cultural shift from internal to external.

Traditional technical measures remain valid, but technology management must add and review specific customer experience measures in the IT organisation.

For example, United Healthcare uses customer surveys to measure trust, a sense of relationship, loyalty and compassion. These are employed to rate between 15 and 25 elements that focus, for example, on the effort required of customers when using the company’s website. To make this data more actionable, some funding in United Healthcare is tied to these measures of the impact on customers as well as the overall experience.

Similarly, The Home Depot’s IT department reviews customer satisfaction scores every Monday morning. Naveen Krishna, vice-president of online and mobile technology at the company, says: "If satisfaction scores drop, it’s a big deal and people will act."

Trouble tickets

Dell uses a number of measurements, including a sample of customer trouble tickets followed by customer callbacks to understand the specifics of their experience. Dell also performs customer surveys in which business units are measured by their net promoter scores.

The companies we interviewed identified a small number of IT management roles that had a significant effect on improving customer experience. These were architects, process designers, data experts and technology strategists.

For example, Dell has expanded the focus of its enterprise architects from technical architecture only to include information architecture and business architecture.

Similarly, United Healthcare "created strategic, experience-focused competencies for architecting and developing the interactions and experiences to be aligned to the United Healthcare brand".

Role upgrades

The role upgrades took two broad forms: increase the focus on design, data and process elements that directly affect customer-facing systems; identify the system changes required to take advantage of public infrastructure that could be crucial to extending market reach and increasing scale efficiencies, such as cloud computing.

Process designers take on an added burden as customer experience initiatives typically span traditional organisational and business-unit barriers, which increases design complexity and requires deft handling of political and cultural barriers.

Like most new technology management initiatives, leaders at the companies interviewed emphasised the use of virtual or formal teams that combined relevant roles to accelerate experience and facilitate change.

But what is new in this instance is that these teams combined technology management and business domain personnel from the start.

For example, Dell created a dedicated team focusing on both internal and external customer experience. Virtual teams will consist of business and technology management people with a clear definition of responsibilities and hand-offs.

Culture is a broad area which includes how decisions are made, habits and their effects, speed of action and motivation. A customer-oriented culture is one that seeks to ensure that improved customer experience becomes the path of least resistance.

Culture change

The Home Depot says the experience of customers is “front and centre to everything we do”. However, few companies can wait for the culture to change before improving customer experience – they need to get started now.

Cultural change requires continuous, broad-based – including top-down – commitment, supported by training and coaching.

To make this happen, define what that desired culture looks like, what the gaps are and what motivates different groups in IT, and begin to socialise senior commitment and exercise good organisational change management to make this happen.

Technology management groups in organisations that improved their customer experience were either global in nature or were becoming more so. Dell said its main focus was “cross-organisational and cross-channel”. The Home Depot already had global processes and systems in place.

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Make good use of resources

Other business transformation initiatives we studied have consistently looked to make better use of resources by increasing the percentage of functions, processes and systems that are common to the enterprise.

Improving customer experience requires expertise in business analytics, mobile devices, security, user design and other hard-to-find skills.

Organisations that are highly fragmented, with complex infrastructures, find it hard to free up these experts from day-to-day firefighting.

That is not to say that all IT resources should be global, but there clearly is a strong trend towards greater global consistency among companies that are improving the customer experience.

This is an extract from Forrester’s Technology management’s checklist for improving customer experience (June 2014) report, by vice-president and principal analyst Marc Cecere.

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