Tip

Customer experience improvement projects puts spotlight on CIOs

By Harley Manning and Ted Schadler

The business imperative to improve customer experience puts new demands on CIOs. Increasingly, the technology projects that get backing cluster around digital interactions

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with customers through Web and mobile channels, engagement that requires deep links into content and transaction systems of record. Going forward, this trend will intensify as businesses demand a single view of customers to help guide sales and service interactions across all channels -- online, on-mobile, over the phone and in person.

These developments place a spotlight on IT leadership to help define the systems of engagement and execute business strategy, not just to perform maintenance and support. And that makes CIOs and their teams critical partners to marketing, sales and support organizations when it comes to improving customer experience.

How can a CIO manage something as potentially soft and vague as customer experience improvement projects? The answer is to adopt the same governance practices companies that treat customer experience as a business discipline follow. As we describe in Forrester's new book, Outside In, these practices help organizations manage customer experience in a proactive and disciplined way by assigning specific responsibility and management tasks to specific people across the organization.

At every step of the way...the customer experience is linked directly to and dependent on the technology systems of engagement.

Forrester Research

The Rise of Customer Experience Steering Committees

Governance bodies are as varied as the organizations they support. FedEx has a customer experience steering committee that meets monthly, which FedEx founder, chairman, president and CEO Fred Smith chairs. The committee reviews customer experience improvement projects and, in a process that's described as "very disciplined," makes decisions about where to move forward.

Similarly, Adobe has a customer advocacy council that includes senior leaders from product development, customer support, finance, marketing, business process management and its two largest business units. The council meets regularly to review the latest customer insights and metrics. This lets them size, scope and prioritize issues that they believe will make the biggest improvement to the customer experience and have the biggest financial impact for the firm.

Adobe's customer advocacy council doesn't work on its own. It partners with another cross-functional group at Adobe -- the business process improvement council, which sponsors customer experience improvement initiatives and allocates people to work on them. Technology and the CIO are at the core of process improvement if those processes touch databases and back-end systems. It also assigns an executive sponsor to each project, who's then responsible for plowing through the roadblocks and making sure that people from individual silos are working together as they should be. Through this governance model, Adobe has completed a number of short-term projects, is managing several long-term initiatives and has an ongoing pipeline of additional projects. When fully completed, the company estimates that these efforts will have a combined business impact of tens of millions of dollars.

The Move Toward Embedded Customer Experience Process

Customer experience governance isn't just about oversight. It also establishes processes that force customer experience concerns into the mix when making day-to-day business decisions. For example, Canada Post requires all funding requests from any department to answer ten customer-focused questions in the business case. This ensures that all leaders think not just about how their projects will affect the bottom line but also about how they'll impact the customer experience.

More on customer experience improvement strategies

IT alignment with business strategy adds value to customer experience

VMware CIO: Bringing the consumer experience to the enterprise

Bridging the customer experience chasm

Similarly, when it acquired Milwaukee-based M&I Bank, Bank of Montreal required anyone proposing an integration project to complete a customer experience assessment as part of the stage-gating process for funding. Based on the proven success of these assessments in the M&I integration, BMO's next step is to embed them into its broader technology funding process.

Governance doesn't stop once projects launch, either. To ensure delivery of the right experience every time, some firms provide tools that guide daily operations. For example, service design firm live|work created a conversation guide for claims agents at Gjensidige, Norway’s largest insurance company. Its goal is to help agents keep conversations in line with the target experience despite the wide range of customer scenarios they encounter on a daily basis. The company knows the guides are successful because overall satisfaction with agent calls is up dramatically, and the number of dissatisfied callers is down dramatically. In the future, agent desktop systems that don't embed this kind of guidance will fail basic audits for compliance with sound customer experience governance practices.

At every step of the way -- steering committee, project governance process, execution and operations -- the customer experience is linked directly to and dependent on the technology systems of engagement. CIOs are a critical resource to define what's possible, adapt the core systems to serve customer experience goals, instrument and analyze the operations to continuously assess and improve the experience and, of course, operate the new technology required for mobile and digital engagement.

Harley Manning is the co-author of Outside In: The Power of Putting Your Customers at the Center of Your Business. He launched the customer experience practice at Forrester Research and has led it for 14 years. He is currently a vice president and research director.

Ted Schadler is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves CIOs. He is the co-author of Empowered, which guides companies on how to leverage disruptive technologies in the workforce.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, Executive Editor.

This was first published in October 2012

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