Boards are much more willing to spend on IT projects that will help make customers happy: tech analyst Gartner says some of the most important technology investments during the next 12 months will be those that help to improve customer experiences.
As the executives responsible for leading technology, CIOs will be charged with ensuring customer-focused IT projects – such as opening digital channels to market, introducing big data analytics and supporting new product launches – create great experiences that result in a quick return on investment.
So what does the delivery of a great customer experience look like? Five digital leaders give us their tips for using technology to keep customers happy.
1. Place people at the heart of the design process
Claire Dickson, group CIO at packaging business DS Smith, says great customer experience is probably a lot simpler than many executives believe. To be successful, companies must place the demands of the people they serve at the heart of the design process.
"I think we over-complicate the customer experience; we think the customer wants everything. And I think that's where the design-thinking component of what we do is so important, because you're really designing around what the customer's needs are, not what you think they want," she says.
Dickson says designing to customers' requirements also means keeping the technology component as simple as possible. In most cases, that means building a clear and simple user interface.
"Think carefully about what you're asking them to complete, which on a B2B side and our supply chain is focused on, 'take an order, how much does it cost, and when are you going to deliver it'. We don't need a lot else. It's easy to over-complicate things around the many different variations you can get, so I'm trying to optimise our processes around that kind of simplified information," she says.
2. Create a joined-up approach to business intelligence
Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard says the key to success is using data to make it easier for your clients to interact with your business.
"As a customer, you don't want to have to go through 25 different hoops to get an answer to a question," she says. "For a company, delivering customer experience is all about being able to take care of those questions at the snap of the finger and not having to go through a whole realm of different interrogations to get to that point."
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Stoddard says effective use of data and analytic tools is crucial to being able to find the right answers quickly. She says a strong two-way partnership between marketing and IT will help organisations to build that intelligence.
"Both IT and marketing need to think about the data that has been held in different silos and pull it all together to use analytics to help understand customer requirements," she says. "And to do that, you need to look at experience across everything that the customer does, which includes things like invoicing, finance and support."
3. Ensure your staff know what great customer experience looks like
Jon Braithwaite, UK and Ireland CIO at food and support services company Compass Group, says the crucial component is understanding the needs of the customer.
Compass runs about 6,500 trading units in the UK across seven different sectors. The digital arm of Braithwaite's team looks after the company's customer-facing tech, creating a range of apps to help people order food, while also running 11,000 point-of-sale devices across a range of organisations and events.
"I think great customer experience is about having great staff that care about the customer and understand what they're trying to get to and understand what their strategy is. I've met chefs and people who prepare our food who are really excited about what tech can do for them and for our customers going forward," he says.
"Our business is so diverse. Having a customer like the Ministry of Defence is very different to a major football club or a big sporting event. Everybody wants to do the best by the people that they ultimately serve. I think for us, delivering great experiences is about working closely with customers to understand what their needs are and then catering to them."
4. Measure experiences to deliver the right outcomes
Nicki Doble, group CIO at insurance specialist Cover-More Group, says executives need to take a broader view of their customers.
"If your motivation is simply to sell more stuff, and your strategy is to sell more insurance or sell more widgets, then that's wrong," she says. "Think about how you can measure experience; what are the things that are driving behaviours to get to the right outcomes?"
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Doble advises other business leaders to go out and talk with customers. Run user groups, test products and find out whether your company is building products or services that people want. Then, as your company delivers to those demands, tweak your offerings to meet new requirements.
"Is your strategy actually customer-focused and, as that drips down, is that about delivering a better experience?" she says. "Genuinely look at, 'are we providing things that suit us and ideas that we've come up with around the table one day, or have we gone out and actually done research to find out what customers are after?' And then think about tailoring products and services to that demand."
5. Pay close attention to the finer details of your markets
Michael Voegele, chief digital and information officer at tobacco company Philip Morris International, also recognises that senior managers often focus on experience measurements that come from net promoter scores, consumer panels and interviews.
While these tools provide important intelligence, Voegele says the key to delivering great experiences is to pay close attention to the finer details of markets, whether that's coming from clients, partners or employees.
"I think it is about the distinct capability to understand the ecosystem of people your company serves: there is not just one type of consumer in the world. In every country, every aspect of that experience is different to a large extent – you have different ecosystem partners, you have a different speed of innovating, and you have a different maturity of adoption of technology and experiences, which drive the expectations of the consumer," he says.
Voegele suggests "the secret sauce" for creating great customer experiences is to analyse the data that comes from this ecosystem in granular detail. Companies who have this detailed awareness of their clients find it easier to observe their customers carefully and figure out their challenges proactively and quickly.
"The ultimate target is that you figure out how you can observe your consumers in that given ecosystem to see the problems that even your consumer doesn't see at that point in time. And if you have that understanding, you will have a significant impact once you've developed a solution for them," he says.