According to a 2018 World Economic Forum report by Bain & Company, only 1% of $1.2 trillion digital transformation investments will achieve their set targets. Why is that? If companies have decided that customers are in the driving seat and that delivering a superlative digital customer experience (CX) is paramount, then surely all obstacles to achieving that transformation should be systematically removed.
Colm Harte, Technical Director at NearForm, suggests some reasons why many organisations are finding the CX imperative increasingly insurmountable and what can be done to face the challenges head-on before they become unwieldy.
When it comes to customer experience, many organisations today are playing catch-up. Why do you think some are winning and others are just not yet at the races?
Delivering a winning customer experience today requires integrating multiple channels, old and new, into a unified platform that makes it easier and faster to do business and for customers to self-serve in a seamless, frictionless way. The brands that are succeeding are the ones who are accelerating this change.
So the question really is: what is stopping some companies from achieving accelerated change? In our experience, a principal obstacle can be one that many large organisations themselves are only dimly aware of: their own internal culture, technology systems that are no longer fit for purpose and siloed departments and workflows. These can put up serious roadblocks to delivering even the first step towards larger change programmes or CX transformation. It leads to a technology trust deficit where the business side of the organisation simply loses all faith that the technology programs will deliver and that the anticipated benefits will ever materialise.
But technology is now central to delivering optimal customer experience. So how do organisations overcome this technology-trust deficit if they are to move ahead with the pace?
Many companies need to be re-inspired about technology, and both the business and IT teams need to see that technology really can deliver an enhanced customer experience. The starting point is a shared and signed-up priority with all stakeholders to collaborate on the design and development of seamless customer experience. To be truly successful, this should involve marketing, customer service, domain experts, data analysts and internal users across the supply chain – especially where there is a need to remove complicated or unconnected processes that are interrupting the flow of the customer experience. That need for collaboration may sound like a no-brainer but we find it is a common hurdle that is often overlooked.
When we work with organisations to drive this agenda and we see that familiar cycle of low expectations, scepticism, and then delight upon delivery, it’s always a reminder that there are 100 more organisations out there who have a similar technology trust deficit that’s waiting to be addressed.
When working with such organisations, how do you see them being reinspired by technology?
Put simply, it’s about putting the customer first and foremost, setting a defined outcome that technology can address and delivering on that with rigor and urgency. It’s about having a design journey that sets out to rapidly build prototypes that can be iterated and built on with real user feedback. It’s about having a risk-tolerant, fail-fast approach that allows for accelerated delivery of solutions that match the user’s needs. It’s about ensuring key stakeholders see progress early on and are a part of that process.
So what part do these stakeholders play during the development of a digital CX initiative?
Collaboration during what we call the Discovery and Validation stages is crucial to succeeding with digital innovation. When the IT and business stakeholders come together to assess what the company’s true needs are and to validate what is being delivered, the closer the initiative will be to delivering the stated aims – on time, on budget. Rapid iteration of the designs with input from the business stakeholders – across all parts of the value chain – is not only efficient and user-centred but it lowers risks associated with delivering an over-provisioned solution with bloatware features that aren’t needed and never will be. Fail fast, fail safe – that’s the approach we take.
But too much collaboration in the execution – during the Build stage – can slow it down. At that stage, focusing on functional knowledge within departments will ensure that execution by the IT teams is not held up by others – except, ideally, those customers who are willing to test early releases.
If getting the culture and approach right is step 1 to driving the speed of CX transformation within organisations, is step 2 about getting the right technology solution?
No, technology is not the real issue to be tackled next. It’s having the right skills to exploit the technology that’s a bigger risk to speed and success. Organisations who don’t acknowledge their skills shortage and who don’t think differently about ways of filling those gaps and keeping skills up to date, risk either long-term damage or risk being left behind. More and more companies are now coupling their established in-house IT teams’ domain expertise with an injection of new ideas and skill sets from the outside. Onboarding the right external partner to work closely with internal teams can really accelerate development but they also bring new thinking from other industries and projects which helps in-house IT teams to develop new skills. This in turn often results in better staff retention.
Once you have the people and processes in place, does the technology more easily fall into place in transforming the organisation’s customer experience?
Technology presents its own difficulties particularly when the organisation is hamstrung by complex stacks, including layers of legacy technology that function but are outdated. Often these systems are full of quirks that the IT team has grown accustomed to working around. We realise that the sunk investment in the stack, and its valuable interfaces to other systems, means it’s impossible to bypass it altogether. But often, we will use only the layers we need and circumvent the rest. We’d never tell a client that we can’t work with their CRM system, for example, but if there are legacy pieces that offer little value to the optimum solution, we’ll find ways to work around them.
How do you work around outdated legacy systems without fully replacing them?
We encourage organisations to think differently, keep an open mind about the technical approach and the technology stack currently in use. Often we draw on proven open-source stacks, modules and headless systems, and we work with the technology team to build exactly what’s needed, with additional coding provided by a joint team of themselves and NearFormers to cover off things like user interface requirements.
Data can be the difference between a mediocre CX and a stellar one. What advice do you have for organisations on avoiding some of the rising challenges that ‘big data’ presents?
It is true that many organisations are seeking solutions, skills and practical proven suggestions on how to harness customer data and analytics. But here’s what we are finding to be equally if not more challenging for many large organisations: they are facing a complex array of data sources built up over the years with little or no clear way of collating and presenting it into meaningful value for the organisation or the customer. Most have a goldmine that they have yet to drill. What was once a storage issue is now a consolidation issue, coupled with the challenge of analysing these rich data sources and visualising the most meaningful outputs.
So consolidation and visualisation of data is just as important as the analysis and interpretation of the data itself?
Yes, and the issue is becoming as much about ‘fast data’ as it is ‘big data’. Digital leaders need to make effective technology choices to equip their organisations for data that is both high volume and high velocity and that comes from many sources. The goal is to aggregate the right data through the right platform to make it accessible and transparent, in a centralised place accessed from any touch point. We are frequently brought in to help transformation executives and their developer colleagues turn some unwieldy data challenges into usable tools – getting there in the most efficient way often requires stepping back and assessing it from the desired outcomes, starting with the customer and what most impacts their journey.
What would be parting advice for Digital leaders who are embarking on transformative customer experience delivery?
Technology obviously plays a key role in delivering a transformed customer experience, but the culture and the way of ‘doing IT’ inside your organisation will be equally key to success.
We often talk about the need for companies to transform themselves and their approach before they can deliver transformation for their customers. It’s never too early to lay the groundwork for that root-and-branch change. Start one project at a time. Adopt an ‘agile pilot’ approach by working with a partner who has the expertise in discovery workshops and rapid prototyping to get off on the right start for your next project. Let the benefits speak for themselves and use it to drive an agile enterprise approach throughout all your future projects.
6 Ways to Prepare the Ground for Change in Transforming your Digital Customer Experience
Colm Harte is Technical Director at NearForm, with more than 20 years experience developing scalable, high-availability platforms across a variety of industries. Colm brings a combination of deep technical knowledge and leadership skills to ensure successful delivery. Having partnered with organisations across the globe to help them achieve sustainable innovation through the design & delivery of open software, methodologies and technologies, we are expertly positioned to help you optimise your customer experience.
We work with clients to design & deliver digital CX solutions starting with Discovery workshops and resulting in go-to-market ready solutions in as little as 12 weeks. Contact us for an exploratory chat and feel free to connect with Colm on LinkedIn.