Implanting CIOs into customer experience
After many years of competing on price, selection, quality, and service, businesses find themselves on the newest battleground - customer experience (CX). Beyond great products and services, customers increasingly expect organizations to provide engaging, high-quality experiences tailored to their individual wants and needs and available across a wide variety of touch points and devices.
For CIOs and their IT departments, CX similarly represents an important battleground; for many, their very future is at stake. That’s because technology is an essential ingredient of CX - meeting customer expectations requires a growing complex of technology solutions, and businesses can’t deliver great CX without IT support.
It might sound overly dramatic, but there is a huge amount at stake here. Indeed, those CIOs that can rise to the “CX occasion” will find themselves feted as essential strategic allies to their business partners. On the other hand, those that fails in helping to shape and drive superior CX run the risk of jeopardizing not only their companies’ success but their careers as well.
The road to CX success for IT teams is a challenging one, riddled with technological complexity, siloed organizations and politics, disruptive competition, and rapidly evolving market expectations and competition. Under such circumstances it can be tempting for CIOs to stick to the bread and butter of building, acquiring, and managing conventional IT systems and infrastructure. But the reality is that they must play an integral role in CX, and doing that well can help secure a more prominent role within their organizations. While ‘customer experience’ may be the hot topic of the day in boardrooms around the world, it’s certainly not a new concept. Indeed, it can be traced back to the very origins of commerce when merchants had to fix problems associated with a sale or risk losing a customer’s business. But it has certainly come to the fore once again as markets have become increasingly crowded with competing players and product offerings, making differentiation difficult for many businesses. CX has had to evolve over the years to meet changing needs. From the earlier focus on service and problem resolution, CX evolved to encompass customer engagement, marketing, and sales. Fast forward, and organizations are now realizing that customers want and expect quality CX to extend across the entire customer journey, from awareness to purchase, service and support, and even beyond into co-innovation of products
and brand advocacy.
Savvy organizations have long since figured out that their brand and image don’t originate in the marketing department; they come from the last interaction that a customer has had with any part of the business. Visions of glistening planes soaring through the heavens with grandiose music evaporate extremely quickly in the face of flight delays, cryptic ticketing applications, and stony-faced flight attendants. That means that every interaction, whether physical or digital, either contributes to or detracts from the quality of the customer experience.
Ultimately, CX is all about bringing together technology, processes, information, and empowered employees to make and keep customers satisfied. And it is here where the CIO and his/her team must strive to make a difference. At IDC we predict that by 2020, 60% of CIOs in global organizations will have been supplanted by chief digital officers for the delivery of IT-enabled products and digital services. So the threat to the CIO’s influence - and even very existence within the CX circle is an extremely real one.
In order to play a meaningful role and head off the threat of a CDO taking away key responsibilities, the IT department must develop some critical new skills that until now may have not even been on their radar. Central to this is the need to develop deep levels of customer knowledge and empathy, while CIOs must also become adept at simultaneously leading, following, influencing, and persuading line-of-business executives who may or may not welcome IT’s involvement in CX initiatives.
This last point is crucial to avoiding conflict, because there will undoubtedly be certain lines of business that believe they ‘own’ the customer experience. Contrary to such beliefs, IDC is firmly of the opinion that CX is an enterprise-wide, mission-critical initiative and that CIOs and their teams are essential elements as they bring some critically needed competencies. For example, chief marketing officers will only be successful if a productive relationship with the IT organization is created and developed, and that holds true in service, support, and other facets of customer relationships as well, as all are underpinned by technology along with people, processes, and information.
Failure to play an active and transformational role in the CX journey will most likely result in the IT department being branded as a caretaker and infrastructure management organization, with customer-facing technology initiatives handed off to a CDO (or equivalent). It is for this reason that CIOs and their teams must step up to the plate. IT has much to bring to the CX table, including a deepseated knowledge of enterprise systems and processes and invaluable skills in privacy and security protection, enterprise architectures, and application integration, to name a few. It is now up to them to prove their worth.