It's time for technology teams to find their voice in customer experience

Unfortunately, a customer experience mindset 'is quite the opposite of how classic IT organizations work.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Let's face it -- every company is delivering things through apps and websites or is supported by digital tools. The only way to truly differentiate from digitally saturated markets is to to be able to go above and beyond the call of duty to please customers. It's not just the price or quality of a good or service, it's the experience that goes with it. Thus, there's been a tremendous push lately to deliver better customer experience (CX). It's time for technology professionals and managers to get in front of all this, and work directly to engage with end-user customers. It's time for tech professionals to amplify their CX voices. 

Photo: Joe McKendrick

RackSpace captured some of this sentiment last year in its survey of 1,400 IT executives, which found that CX is a top strategic priority, above IT security/compliance, IT strategy, and digital transformation. The survey found many indirect impacts -- six out of 10 managers (63%), for example, report they are using technology to drive automation efficiencies, and over half (51%) are using it to drive IoT and cloud native initiatives. In terms of more direct impacts, technology initiatives focused on real-time data analysis (44%) and customer engagement (30%) have a more direct impact on building and refining customer interactions. 

How closely should technology professionals get to the CX action, then? I have been canvassing tech-sector leaders on this question and most agree the time has come for IT teams to get out in front of the customer. When technology professionals "can share their data with marketing, sales, and other customer-facing departments, it's easier to specify the changes and developments required to support a better customer experience," said Sharad Varshney, CEO of OvalEdge.  

"Everything should be about improving customer experience, which is why our teams are organized based on different personas," said Kia Khosrojerdi, director of engineering at NewStore. "This allows everyone to work with a customer-first mindset. As an example, we have UX designers working closely with engineers to ensure the user experience is factored into product decisions every step of the way. In addition, we also make it a priority to include our engineers -- and the engineering leadership team -- in customer-facing meetings and on-site visits. Not only does this give them first-hand visibility into customer problems, but it also allows them to work with our product managers and designers to come up with solutions."

There are headwinds to this ideal, of course. A customer experience mindset "is quite the opposite of how classic IT organizations work," Khosrojerdi said. "They are usually seen as execution arms for business departments, such as sales or marketing. So one of the challenges is changing this dynamic. Engineers that are used to the old way of doing things need to be empowered to offer opinions and solutions versus executing another team's vision." 

There is "an old guard that stands in the way of progress," Varshney agreed. "Many view the technology sector as the backend, with other front-facing departments taking the lead on customer experience. This is a stumbling block, but it shouldn't be."

In recent years, the push toward digital transformation has brought IT teams to the forefront, providing "IT leaders "equal status with business leaders," says Varshney. "With this status comes an opportunity for technology managers to integrate the backend with the front end and support their team to work on a unified customer experience drive."

Varshney provides advice for getting closer to the CX action. "To overcome obstacles from senior management or even other department members, you need to develop viable use cases for the technologies you see supporting a better customer experience," he advised. "You can accelerate your understanding of how to serve customers better from a data or IT perspective through experimentation -- trying out new approaches to data sharing and other methods."

Khosrojerdi recommended involving the engineering team in the customer feedback process. "That way they can understand the impact of something they built and respond quickly and directly," he said. "Focus on outcomes rather than output and make sure engineers understand why." 

He added that the best way to achieve this is through ongoing engagement, versus any type of formal training. "To get this right, technology professionals have to be hands-on and be part of a team that has customer-centricity in their DNA." Company culture "plays a huge role, and this culture needs to cascade down to every department, including engineering."

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