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PHOTO: Zach Marshall

Forrester Research has found that “even a minor improvement to a brand’s customer experience (CX) quality can add tens of millions of dollars of revenue by reducing customer churn and increasing share of wallet.” Given this, CX represents a place for CIOs to shine by co-creating differentiated value for their business customers and for their CMOs. The open question is are CIOs up for this challenge and even more important, knowledgeable of where to get started. These were the questions that I asked in a recent CIOChat.

How Important Is Creating Great Customer Experience to Your Business?

CTO Peter Salvitti said, “it's always been important given the nature of higher education ... now it is made even more so as the volume has been ratcheted up several levels.” CIO David Seidl agreed: “We're a highly undergraduate focused institution. Our customers are students, and coming to Miami often starts a lifelong relationship. How students experience us from their first engagement to their attendance to their alumni experience for life matters every day.”

Getting down to specifics, former CIO Joanna Young said, “never more than now should companies realize that customer experience is in the eye of the customer. Everyone's experience matters — empathy and customization at scale is paramount.” For this reason, CIO Milos Topic said, “CX is critical. Removing friction is the name of the game in all that we do.” Former Gartner research fellow and customer growth innovation evangelist at Salesforce, Tiffani Bova, summarized by saying, “it isn't really about how important it is to you, it is about how important it is to your customers.”

Related Article: The Rise of the Customer-Centric CIO

What's the Biggest CX Hang-Up?

CIO Isaac Sacolick said, “the biggest hang-up is that the organization doesn't define what it means and leaves it to each business operation to interpret.” Seidl had a different opinion, stating that “the biggest hang-ups are onboarding and customer care. It really is a lifetime engagement for our customers, and often is a very long-term thing for our staff.” Salvitti agreed but added, “before COVID-19, I'd agree with the onboarding being a service gap. Now I'd argue that it's general preparedness vis-a-vis customer care and ongoing support.”

In this vain, Young said, “it takes many interactions to build trust, and only one or two failed or bad interactions to dent or damage things irreparably.” The problem is “we all fall in love with our organizations. Much like many relationships, we sometimes love them despite their quirks because we see who and what they are and what they stand for. If we do it right, our customers see, live and feel it too,” Seidl said. For this reason, Bova said, “it is important to stay focused on the customer and customer success. Brands have to make it easy for customers to get answers in the channels they want. If it can't be in person, make sure you have options.”

Former CIO Mark Thiele agreed, “thinking about CX from an impact standpoint takes real effort. One place companies fail at CX is with the employee onboarding process. Small misses send a strong message that you're an afterthought." Young said CX must align with employee, customer safety and operational stability, and organizations learning or relearning that CX is situational. Before and now, hang-ups most often are process and data grit in gears of delivering CX quickly and flexibly. Legacy process, data, systems often are barrier conditions. The lack of investment in business continuity planning/disaster recovery has popped up higher in the barrier list recently.” Topic said “the fix is training people.”

Related Article: The Path to Customer-Centricity Lies in Dismantling Data Silos

How Critical Is a Single View of Customer?

Participants agreed on the importance of reaching a single view of customers, though they diverged in how easy (or hard) it was to establish such a view. Thiele said, “today a single view of the customer is a huge advantage. The trick is that the touch points and risks are ever changing, so close observation is still needed to accommodate opportunities to differentiate.” For this reason, Seidl said, “he spends a lot of time working on organizational culture.” Young continued, “the CIO and IT team must array and prioritize the barrier conditions standing in the way of single view of customer and ergo improved CX.”

Meanwhile, Sacolick said, “it is important, but for many organizations challenging to solve.” Salvitti said, “for those of us in higher education, I'd say it's table stakes. I mean, if we don't have a single view of your constituency then what are we doing to present the best CX face we can?” Seidl said, “it’s challenging to deliver. CRM and other systems across complex organizations are hard, and that single view doesn't exist in a lot of organizations as they've grown in silos.” In terms of problems, former CIO Tim McBreen said a "single, consistent, high-quality, 360 degree view of customer is also made difficult because of technical debt issues. The same thing happens with process. What is needed is a single consistent approach and workflow with customers.”

Related Article: Your Single Customer View Isn't as Good as It Could Be

How Important Are New Apps for Interacting With Customers?

Seidl said “customers expect good customer experience today. If you miss this or forget to pay attention to how actual customers respond, you will fail.” McBreen agreed and said, “innovative new apps are important. They need to be simple and consistent to use. You have to link to or integrate with other services to obtain information.”

Young believes that “mastering CX is not a one and done and done. Innovation is needed in the ability to shift to a higher volume of secure, reliable remote/mobile interactions, with expectation setting empathy along the way.” Milos suggests that “now, it is more important to master the fundamentals with empathy, understanding and support. In time, slowly introduce new modalities that are easy to pick up ... most people won’t learn new things now, especially those that can be accomplished via email/text/call.”

Related Article: Whose App Is it Anyway?

Customer Experience Requires Business Co-Creation to Succeed

Clearly, CIOs need to start by talking to customers. They also need to connect with process owners and those who have to make processes work. “Ask the customer. Ask them what they need (and want) then demonstrate internally why these changes matter,” Milos said. “Definitely. Have the real customers or consumers involved in the entire process of idea through design,” McBreen said. Young added that “it is important to involve process design and data experts to do end-end mapping of the CX impact lifecycle.”

Parting Remarks

I have to say I was surprised by the level of interest and understanding of CX across multiple industries. As well, I was surprised by how the current crisis is in the back of CIOs' minds and how well the crisis ties back to CX. Stay safe and stay healthy!