Technology Differentiators in Customer Experience

Sue Kurian, Customer Experience Strategist, Business Concepts & Solutions
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Sue Kurian, Customer Experience Strategist, Business Concepts & Solutions

Every CMO and CIO knows that it’s the Customer Experience that helps win customers. Additionally, it is not all about getting customers in the door, it is about retaining them and keeping them satisfied.

Recently, I had the opportunity to fly on both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines. Both were offering free in-flight movies on their flights and both had simple instructions to configure your device for the in-flight entertainment. However, United went one step further. At the gate, they announced the free feature ahead of boarding and had technical assistants wander around to help customers with their app, to ensure a seamless experience once on board. This stood out as a differentiated experience which demonstrated that they cared about my flight experience.  When all else is equal with your competitors, it’s the experience that will be your differentiator, that makes your value proposition stick and helps retain your customers.

Many organizations invest in improving Call Center measures like ‘wait time’ and ‘first call resolution time’ to advance their customers’ experience. However, all organizations should be asking the question, ‘how can I make the experience friction free, so that there is no call’?  The answer to this starts with product ideation and moves through creation and execution. For the CIO, I call this the focus on the “‘ility’ pillars”.

  ‚ÄčAll organizations should be asking the question, ‘how can I make the experience friction free, so that there is no call  

The ‘ility’ pillars of Customer Experience – the Technology Differentiators

Let’s start at the bottom three foundational pillars of experience and move our way up.

Scalability: We all recall the healthcare.gov fiasco. One of the many failures was that, the site was not responsive to deal with the many concurrent users who were submitting their applications for health insurance. When building systems, technologists need to understand the performance requirements in addition to functional requirements. Scalability is much more than responsiveness, it is the ability to process, and manage varying levels of workloads, users, and geographic locations. Scalability should also consider Security and Privacy factors, as these are not negotiable as you scale. Customers want to be reassured that their data is secure. CIO’s have a responsibility to invest in secure data and secure coding practices and not be remembered as another Target or Sony leader. While there may be no such thing as 100 percent security, IT teams must be vigilant in protecting data internally and externally.

Agility:  In the 90’s and even more recently, software programs were monolithic pieces of code,  updated through long drawn out projects spanning a year or longer. Even software giant Microsoft took almost seven years to update its operating system from Windows XP to Vista, disappointing many customers with the wait. Today, Microsoft delivers Office 365 updates almost monthly through the cloud. Expedia and Amazon refresh their websites frequently, enabled by many automated processes. In today’s nimble world, CIO’s need teams to be agile for delivering codes faster. Gartner uses the term ‘bi-modal’ IT to recognize development methods focused on speed and agility versus traditional methods with linear planning and process rigor. Organizations that are trying to reach the market quickly, and need speed to market, need to build out their agile practices. It means prioritizing the most viable value added features first. Agility gives you the edge to learn quickly from customer feedback on what is important to them and build on those learnings.    

Mobility: With US online shopping reaching over $280 billion annually, and e-Commerce inching close to 8 percent of US retail sales, organizations need to keep the mobile consumer in mind. Today 72 percent of Millennials research their shopping options online before purchasing any product. 24-32 year olds lead the way in Smartphone use. CIO’s not only need their websites to be ‘mobile enabled’, their strategy should include innovative ways for customer interaction on a mobile device without compromising security and privacy.

Alaska Airlines, despite my introductory comment, has a wonderfully designed award winning mobile app. Insights into their Customer Innovation work mention great collaboration across many different groups to develop their product and understand the biggest customer needs. The app is a product differentiator for their customers.

At the same time, customer satisfaction with mobile users is not perfect. Customers are disappointed with delivery options, delivery times, ability to return in store or the lack of ability to order online and pickup in store. When CMO’s talk about the omni-channel experience, it is these kinds of value added services that help create a friction free customer experience. CIOs need to prioritize these integrations to aid in customer retention. 

Usability and Simplicity: We all are now familiar with the Apple revolution, how they thought through the entire customer experience from elegant packaging to simplicity in form and function of their user interface. This has revolutionized brands to emphasize the end to end user experience much beyond their websites. Simplicity is not just the role of the technologists. Simplicity does not mean the product has to be simple. When the user experience is simple, users spend more time using your product or service versus figuring out ‘how to’ buy, use, setup, return, or cancel your product.  

Personality or Personalization: This goes hand in hand with Usability and Simplicity.  In the recent years, financial services companies like Fidelity and Mint have become very savvy in personalization. They offer personalized views of your nest egg based on your risk appetite.   Their home page is configured to your needs and takes on your personality. They offer to track your favorite stocks, notify you in your preferred way (email or text) for your specified price trigger points and buy/sell within your specified time frame. Amazon is a leader in personalization—studying your browsing history, offering ideas on products that others have purchased. Amazon has further introduced ‘one click’ buying to speed up the checkout process by retaining your preferred payment method. All of these personalization and productivity tools enhance the customer experience.

Loyalty: Finally, the sum of all the pillars of customer experience results in one word— LOYALTY. Customers are offered rewards like MVP status, Gold card status and other Elite titles which provide them an emotional connection with the brand. Starbucks has leveraged their loyalty program with the Starbucks card and the Starbucks app to keep their customers engaged. The CIO’s role is to enable technology and data insights that drive Loyalty, and help transform their organization to a committed customer focused organization.

 In summary: CIO’s must focus on the ‘ility’ pillars, and this list could go on with reliability, availability, serviceability, individuality etc. All of this should drive a friction free customer experience => which results in greater Customer Satisfaction =>and drives Loyalty and Customer Retention and helps organizations achieve their strategic objective.

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