How overworked tech pros can make more time for the customer

A technologist's role is 'to continually be a change agent' and 'to improve internal and external customer experience through understanding the problem,' according to a senior vice president of IT.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
Portrait of woman examining futuristic looking digital interface technology.
Image: Bloom Productions/Getty Images

Anyone in the technology profession knows the meaning of workplace stress all too well. The business demands increased capabilities in the digital realm, modernized applications, and security -- along with fighting daily fires. 

That raises the question: With so much emphasis and urgency by the business on delivering superior customer experience, will tech managers and staff ever have enough time and resources to really reach out and get to know their end-user customers?  

For starters, it takes a great deal of support from the top ranks. Some businesses are good at recognizing this, some aren't. Where management is supportive, technology and customer initiatives get closely aligned.  

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"Our leadership is extremely focused on the customer and on optimizing their experience when shopping with us," says Katie Curtis, senior vice president of IT at Mattress Firm. "As we've implemented new technology, they see what it can do to improve the journey for the customer and therefore embrace new initiatives. I'd say our only challenge is prioritizing what tech projects to lean into and how much our team can handle at one time."

Many companies, however, face staffing issues that make prioritizing CX efforts difficult. "The most significant headwind to connecting tech professionals with CX is resource capacity," says Jennifer Jackson, chief marketing officer at Actian. "Teams are understaffed right now and talent is hard to find. Most of the days are filled with fire-fighting and urgent priorities. Because of bandwidth issues, teams have not been able to focus on customer experience to the extent needed."  

Technology teams "have always worked to improve digital experience, but now they're now tasked with going a step further and analyzing user needs to mitigate friction," says Kartik Chandrayana, chief product officer of Quantum Metric. "The first step to successfully optimizing digital experience is getting to the root of customer behaviors and issues."

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Business technology leaders make the following recommendations to forge a closer bond between technologists and customers:

  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. To work more closely to understand and serve customers, Jackson advises "forming partnerships within the organization that move you closer to the customer. Find allies and friendlies within the company that can let you become a fly on the wall during customer calls or interactions." Keep in mind, though, that the process of drawing closer to customers "is much more complex than it sounds -- requiring a complete mindset and organizational shift, as many businesses have traditionally kept departments siloed," says Chandrayana. "With consumers' digital demands reaching an all-time high, technology professionals must collaborate with colleagues across departments to understand user behaviors and create a customer-centric experience that meets their every demand."  
  • Sample. Jackson recommends "experiencing the products for yourself. Do things like try the product as a user, take online training courses, download a free trial, explore the website, engage with online chat, call a call center, use search engines and social communities to hear what customers are saying. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer to try to gain as much first-hand experience as possible." 
  • Focus on making it easy to do busines with your company. A company's digital product -- its mobile app or website -- "is just as important as the product they're selling," says Chandrayana. "In other words, if you don't make it as easy and intuitive as possible for customers to browse and complete purchases on your app, they'll surely move on and give their business to your competitor. Now more than ever are technology professionals responsible for improving customer satisfaction and loyalty, and therefore driving revenue. Businesses' bottom line depends on getting digital experience right." 
  • Be a change agent -- and be persistent. The role of a technologist is "to continually be a change agent," says Curtis. "Our job is to improve our internal and external customer experience through understanding the problem -- data -- we are solving and determining whether technology can improve it. We have to be persistent in challenging the status quo with innovation and by improving technology. This requires close business partnerships, identifying smart solutions that provide positive ROI, continually improving while measuring results, and sometimes, a lot of persistence. It once took me two years to get a project approved!"

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Focusing on user experience is essential, Curtis adds. "Key requirements today are mobility, omni, data, and UX.  Most tools will be used directly by the customer so an intuitive interface is a must. It's also important to understand how customers interact with that interface. We learn so much about what our customers want from the way they interact with us -- from online to offline and back again. The consumer journey is no longer linear. It's essential to understand the omni-channel customer journey to provide customers a seamless shopping experience."

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