Big data, mobile, and more: How to create a winning customer experience

If the CIO isn't focused on the customer, then tech is letting the rest of the business down.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are among businesses' favourite tools for communicating with customers.
Image: Fitim Bushati
CIOs who are not focused on the customer are not really concentrating on business at all. To be successful, IT chiefs must use technology systems and services to help place the client at the centre of the organisation.

Customer experience has become a crucial factor - so significant, in fact, that Forrester suggests it is quickly becoming the number one CIO priority. We have, suggests the researcher, entered the age of the customer, where clients have higher expectations than ever before.

Technology plays a crucial role here, helping clients to interact with businesses and allowing organisations to track and trace behaviour. CIOs, as the guardians of IT, will play an essential role in helping their businesses to develop the customer experience. But where should they focus their attention? IT leaders offer their best practice views to ZDNet.

1. Unlock customer loyalty through personalisation

In her role as CIO, Cathy McCabe is pushing digitally enabled change at Jaeger. Prior to becoming IT leader at the luxury retailer, she held senior technology positions at Burberry, which is an organisation that McCabe says is great at placing the customer at the forefront of the business.

She says other firms have now woken up to the importance of customer experience because of the greater emphasis on mobility and data. "Providing the best experience to your clients is related to unlocking the potential of data so that you can better understand customer behaviour," she says.

"You can then begin to think about what customers are purchasing and engage on a more one-to-one level with individuals. That's what we're trying to do at Jaeger. Customers will really embrace mobility if you put the effort in and create a personalised approach, rather than a single, mass message."

McCabe is particularly keen to think about how Jaeger can reward long-term clients. "We're fortunate to have a very loyal customer base," she says. "They want to know more about our brand and this gives us a platform from which to develop more personalised experiences."

2. Consider all channels as a means to help people get in touch

Yodel CIO Adam Gerrard looks at his priorities for the next 12 months and recognises that providing a high-quality customer experience across multiple channels is key. "It's about engaging with and reacting to customers on the medium that they want to use," he says.

He says the firm has had a positive experience working alongside a third party to use Twitter as a customer service channel. Gerrard is also eager for Yodel to make more use of Facebook. He says the channel can provide a positive and proactive route to market, allowing brands to push up-to-date messaging and live information feeds.

Gerrard says the key is for the firm to always look for new ways to boost the customer experience. He says the contact centre remains a focus, particularly in regards to speech recognition and web chat. Other channels are also being considered, such as YouTube.

"Video, for example, might help customers to react in a less emotive manner," he says. "Many people only get in touch with a business when things go wrong - there is less tendency for people to go on social media and praise an organisation for doing the simple things right. We just want to make things easier for our customers."

3. Engage with clients to find out what they really want

Former Tullow Oil CIO Andrew Marks says executives must work to differentiate between what the sales and marketing team believes clients require and what customers actually want. "An organisation that only sells what it thinks its customers need will lose out," he says.

Marks says CIOs must keep their ears open at all times. They should take every opportunity to engage with clients. Most of all, IT leaders should strive to discover context and to create a rich narrative for the CEO about customer requirements.

"Take the information you have back to your IT team and spend time on the heart of the matter. Focus your people on the schedule of a project and how an initiative will help to boost customer experience," says Marks.

"As a CIO, you need to take time to explain how the CEO wants to take the business and its brand in a certain direction. Think about the role IT will play in terms of marketing, not just in terms of distribution and fulfilment. There's no point transforming IT if you're not hitting the right target."

4. Find the right approach to information for your sector

Nick Weisfeld, who is a member of cross-industry body the Data Innovation Working Group, says analytical information can play a big role and is helping to move client service in a particular direction. "It's about improving the whole experience," he says, referring to examples from the finance sector. "So when a customer walks into a bank, the organisation has all the right information to hand and is able to make the right decisions quickly."

Weisfeld, who also heads up GFT's data quality practice, says examples include the continuing efforts of banks to develop credit profiles of individual customers. Barclays, meanwhile, has rolled out video banking that allows customers to speak with advisors using handheld devices from any location.

Such customer experience efforts, says Weisfeld, help to demonstrate how big firms are striving to use big data and collaborative systems in order create a customer-centric view. "In financial services, there has traditionally been a great deal of talk about the three pillars of the organisation - front office, operations and technology," says Weisfeld.

"Data has usually been viewed as part of the technology pillar, but that's changing and banks are viewing information as a separate area. Some banks are even employing standalone chief data officers to deal with data concerns and these executives sometimes report directly to the chief executive."

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