Improving customer experiences, CIO-Style

Cable companies who change your first name to expletives on customer correspondence, banks who call you a slut in their mail-outs, and junk mail sent to “Daughter killed in car crash”. These are not customer relations moves that will win awards. Most companies avoid such grievous customer experiences, but there are still lots of mediocre ones.  How can CIOs help?

Whether it’s trying to take online goods back to a retail store only to find that their online and bricks and mortar systems aren’t connected, or having no continuity between call centre interactions, most people have horror stories to tell. Now, management consultancy SATOV is advocating for a single person to promote the customer to a first-class citizen. The firm labels this role the chief customer officer (CCO), and has written an article calling for more companies to instigate it.

The CCO looks at the customer journey ‘holistically’, as an end-to-end experience, the article argues, suggesting that companies need to unlock customer information held in different silos and begin treating the customer journey as a joined-up experience.

That is significant for CIOs in at least two ways. Firstly, they will be tasked with freeing up that information, often in conjunction with departmental managers, who may have their own political reasons to retain ownership.

Unifying customer data can be a challenging technical problem, because data is often locked up in legacy software, in custom formats. Giving visibility to other applications can take some coding expertise, along with middleware resources.

The other challenge comes in providing joined-up experiences across multiple digital channels. In an ideal customer experience, a company would be able to manage them as they move between channels such as the website, a physical bricks-and-mortar-outlet, the contact centre, and instant message chat. Perhaps even social media, too.

feature contact centre

More than that, explains Mark Satov, the management consulting firm’s founder, companies must use these channels to create positive feedback loops, learning how to improve customer experiences by looking at empirical evidence.

“Can you find a way to build engagement using digital channels like social media and use that to get a lot of input from customers in a digital way?” he asks.

Companies must process that unstructured input into something useful, both at a personal level for that individual customer but also at an aggregate level, so that they can identify trends. If customers are complaining on Twitter about a particular product or service feature, it would be helpful for customer service and product development teams alike to know that.

Satov suggests that companies have more data than ever at their disposal to help connect these dots. “You can use any kind of transaction data through to web site and click-through data – you just know so much more about your customer because that data is easier to grab and garner information from,” he said.

Dart Board with Bulls Eye
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CIOs aren’t likely to manage these customer experiences themselves, but will instead deal with someone responsible for handling customer experiences across an organization, says Satov. A chief customer officer should have the ability to enforce change at a senior level, his company’s article suggests.

That is an ideal scenario, where customers have a single advocate for their welfare in a company. In the real world, of course, customer experiences are often managed by a hodgepodge of different people, from the chief marketing officer, through to the manager of sales, and customer service departments.

In those more common cases, the CIO can still prove to be a useful ally, by being aware of customer experience issues as crucial to a company’s success, and thinking about software and service development for a customer’s perspective. That doesn’t necessarily need any expenses software tools, but it does demand the right mindset.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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