Concepts, ideas, technology all reinvent themselves over the course of history. Science fiction becomes reality after a few decades. Virtualization was a craze in the last decade and now a established way of managing your IT resources, though it was first introduced by IBM in 1972 and thus has a rich 43 years of history behind it. Customer Experience, Employee Experience etc are just the basics of application development. Since the inception of computer programming to write apps for everyday consumers, experience enhancement is a constant effort. This effort keeps getting help on this journey by ever evolving programming concepts, devices, telecommunications and data management. Lets see how this practice has evolved over the years.
Customer Experience or CE, , is the outcome of the efforts of an organization to improve its value chain to take advantage of the latest available technology and customers’ preferred way of engaging with the organization. Lets not go too far back in history and start with the famous Green Screen, those of you who have been in the field of IT since late 80s and early 90s would remember the text based, huge monitors that showed text in only green. Since those days programmers have been trying to improve the user interface to make their applications more user-friendly. This struggle continued during the days of client-server computing, visual programming, the internet & less costly bandwidth and finally today in the era of mobile. So, is making your UI better the only way to improve your customer experience and is that all that you need to do for a better experience? The answer is, No.
User Interface (UI) Design focuses on anticipating what users might need to do and ensuring that the interface has elements that are easy to access, understand, and use to facilitate those actions. We cannot substitute this definition for defining CE, this is just a part of it. As I mentioned earlier the other important elements of a desirable customer experience together complete the value chain. An organization on the CE journey should ask itself the following questions (I am also mentioning the technical solutions through which these capabilities are achieved).
- Are you aware of your customer’s preferences, demographics etc and can you make sense of all the data you have about your customer and related environment. (Customer Analytics)
- How the customer is made aware of your products and offerings? (Digital Marketing)
- How and through which channels the customer can get engaged with your organization, either digital or brick & mortar? (Omni Channel e-commerce)
- How easy and enjoyable is the user’s experience of this engagement? (Omni Channel Customer Engagement)
- Does the information he gets through these channels, updated in real-time, personalized, authentic and seamless across all of your channels? (Real-Time Personalization)
- Can he pay for it in a secured manner without any third-party exposure? (e-payment)
- Is your organization’s supply chain setup in a way to facilitate manufacturing for quick turn around? (B2B Integration, e-Procurement)
- Is your delivery mechanism, transparent and efficient? (Shipment & Returns)
- Do you resolve your customer issues in the same manner and urgency as you sell to them? (After Sales Support, Customer Fulfilment)
If the answer to any of the above questions is “no” or “not exactly” then your customer wont have the desired customer experience. So unless the whole cycle of a transaction starting from awareness to purchase and to customer support does not work in tandem to provide an exceptional CE, your customer might become some one else’s customer.
So why is Customer Experience so important? All the media, technology gurus and vendors agree that, the differentiation in most industries and product categories have decreased rapidly since the post WWII industrial revolution. Most of the products that at one point had no competition started facing competition from new companies, new economies emerged to challenge the dominance of established ones, industry boundaries started vanishing and companies in completely unrelated industries started offering alternates to established ones. In such a situation where a differential advantage remains an advantage for a short time, companies have to keep innovating not only in their product design but also the way that product is delivered to the customer.
The first time a bank started night banking, retail customers thronged to it because of the differentiation it offered that was of immense utility to consumers. So, delivering an exceptional and superior customer experience is the effort to create a differential advantage which is not easy to emulate. A lot of companies can provide a better UI but providing a comprehensive CE which encompasses the whole value chain is way more difficult and requires a lot of efforts and changes in organizational culture.
One of the first steps in this regard is creating an empowered workforce through creating a culture of digital collaboration, which I will discuss in another post soon.