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Secrets of the customer-centric CIO:

How IT leaders can improve the customer experience through strategic analytics

The majority of CIOs in 2018 say enhancing the customer experience is a key business issue. In the past, this challenge fell almost exclusively to externally focused teams, such as marketing and sales, but now that IT has end-to-end visibility of customer data, CIOs can play a key role in the deeper partnership between the business and IT to improve the customer experience from the ground up.

As long as you ask the right questions before embarking on the big data adventure, the opportunity to build customer loyalty is greater than ever.

'Everyone in a company is involved in a top-notch customer experience. Especially the CIO. To create the best possible customer experience you need to combine the strengths of marketing (new style branding), IT (data and tech) and sales/service (the human touch). Companies that succeed in crossing the bridges between these departments are winning the heart and the business of their customers.'

Steven Van Belleghem, International Keynote Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

Achieving optimal customer experience is now a CIO challenge

You don’t have to look far for evidence that the world is becoming increasingly connected. Emails are now snail mail and texts are for verification codes, not instant communication. Consumers instead want real-time access to products and services that respond and cater to their unique experiences and expectations.

What’s fuelling this change is data. It’s what turned disruptive tech ideas into unicorn startups, then ubiquitous brands. Now data in one form or another is on the menu for companies of all sizes, across all industries. At the head of the tech table, the CIO is faced with a buffet of options: business intelligence, analytics, AI, APIs, big data and micro-segmentation. The list goes on, showing the challenge isn’t deciding whether to take a bite, but how to avoid biting off more than they can chew.

With so much data and so many tools and approaches available to analyse it, CIOs seeking to improve the customer experience should start by asking a few fundamental questions. Chief among them are ‘What do we want to be good at?’ and ‘What’s the best way to learn how to do that through data?’. It’s not possible to be the best at everything, so companies need to be clear on what in particular they want to excel at, whether it’s customer service, price, flexibility, or another differentiating factor. To further focus your analytical efforts, intimately understanding how your customer interacts with your product or service can help define the tests, analyses and processes you implement to support the overall marketing strategy.


What are the key customer touchpoints?

While the customer experience is more seamless than ever, and rightfully so, it’s important to identify the key steps in the journey so that the data you collect maps to it in meaningful ways. The alternative – collecting reams of unstructured data on countless metrics – could prove a waste of valuable time and resources, and mean you miss out on opportunities to help innovate.

'There is a fundamental value creation shift happening. In the past, you could win customers through traditional branding and communication. Today, customers don’t fall in love with a brand anymore, they fall in love with the interface of a brand. The only way to create the best interface ever, is by understanding customer behaviour by its greatest detail.'

Steven Van Belleghem, International Keynote Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

It’s useful to involve as many stakeholders as possible when identifying the key touchpoints, which could include email and social in the marketing channel; delivery and payment in order fulfilment; and consumer forums and customer services in research. It’s quite likely that your customer journey is non-linear and omnichannel, but doesn’t mean you can’t pin down the most important moments of interaction.

By mapping the customer journey, organisations can better understand how to:

• Give customers the information they need at the right time

• Solve their problems quickly and efficiently

• Listen for, and understand, unique needs

• Provide experiences before being asked

• Make customers feel better, safer and more powerful

Gartner calls this approach to incrementally forging better relationships with customers the Customer Experience Pyramid. At every stage, there’s a data-driven opportunity to learn what’s needed and how to deliver it in a way that’s useful from a business case standpoint.


Who will organise the data?

Setting customer-relevant goals at the outset can help prevent projects from increasing in complexity and spiralling into production hell, but even modest deployments require in-demand skill sets. The latest Harvey Nash / KPMG CIO Survey reveals that big data and analytics expertise is ‘the number one skill in short supply’ for the fourth year in a row. This means paying close attention to the specific roles you need to build a high performing team capable of understanding what you and other business leaders want to gain from your datasets. For example, data engineers can be just as important as data scientists, especially for turning raw data into insights that are useful to the enterprise and the customer.


What is the right technology for your services and sector?

A major advantage of deeply understanding the customer journey before choosing new technologies is that you can match your feature list to your mission statement, instead of the other way around. This helps prevent integration and functional challenges further down the road. It can also help you realise what solutions could be helpful and what, for your company and customers, are still just hype. Here are a few use cases to get you thinking.


Achieving transparency with customers in B2C

Taking advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT) might sound like a goal reserved for only the largest of tech giants but retail manufacturer Barilla Group, makers of Barilla brand pastas and sauces, embraced IoE to allow customers to trace the entire chain of production for the ingredients in their food, from where it was grown to how it arrived on the store shelf. A quick scan of a QR code printed on food packaging gave customers easy access to an online story of the specific production batch and a detailed analysis of all major phases of the supply chain.


Improving decisions and customer support in B2B

There’s no shortage of opportunities to optimise the customer experience in B2B industries. Ferguson Enterprises, the largest North American plumbing wholesaler, grew to prominence thanks to its one-on-one customer relationships. But as its customer base grew, scaling customer support proved challenging. Customers would call their local store, where their main contact person could be busy with a customer at the counter. They’d then have to leave a message and wait for a call back. To create a consistent customer experience across the entire organisation, Ferguson used Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise to create a virtual knowledge pool. Now the know-how of 22,000 employees is being harnessed with customer calls which are automatically routed to associates in their region who have the exact information they need.

Across the pond, manufacturer of high fashion footwear Del Brenta has revolutionised its interactions with clients by using Cisco’s suite of collaboration solutions. Previously, product designs from clients would be shared via cumbersome email chains, or discussed in meetings that required many hours of travel back-and-forth. Now, using Cisco Webex Board and desktop conferencing tool Cisco Webex DX80, customers can collaborate on designs with Del Brenta’s artisans in real-time. Clients from Paris, London, and New York can get instantaneous feedback from Del Brenta’s headquarters in Italy from the comfort of their respective offices.


Serving the global population in the public sector

In the public sector, the ‘customer’ can be almost anyone at any time. This means there’s a world of data available and a practically unlimited number of ways to improve lives with it. On a global scale, satellites can useEarth observation techniques to improve the forecast accuracy of natural disasters such as cyclones, hurricanes, floods and droughts, which since 2000 have affected 3.5 billion people and caused an estimated$1.9 trillion in economic losses.

Big data can be used at smaller scales, too. BrightBytes’ flagship Clarity platform measures learning outcomes and visualises data in ways that help educational institutions improve student achievement through evidence-based decisions. One in five U.S. schools are taking advantage of Clarity’s data-driven approach to changing how young people learn.

One way corporations can serve the public, or just their customer base within it, is by using open data in combination with their own data and analytics. For instance, Transport for London has long championed open data by offering an API for use by developers in their own software and services.Estimates by Deloitte suggest this sharing of data generates annual economic savings and benefits of up to £130 million, from shortening journey times to reducing accidents on roads by flagging risks.


Using data to power customer engagement and loyalty

Tracking every data point that contributes to the customer experience is no small task, so it’s important to start by applying digital transformation in the areas the customer or client will notice the most. BT’s Digital Customer Research 2017, conducted in partnership with Cisco, revealed some of the key consumer interests from a customer service perspective.

More than half of digital customers feel convenience is more important than price, which justifies the widespread adoption of AI, chatbots and social media customer support. And 78 percent of consumers value proactive service powered by big data, such as when organisations spot a problem online and contact the customer directly to help.

With analytics always at their fingertips, forward-thinking CIOs should look for new opportunities to use data to better understand and cater for customers. For example, capturing and analysing customer interactions through voice analytics has so far mainly been confined to the customer service department. By using it in the product engineering, parts and billing departments, you could gain a deeper understanding of what causes frustration, and thereby lower customer churn.

An overarching theme in shaping customer experience is choice – giving customers the option of using their preferred channel wherever they are, whatever they’re doing and on whichever device they happen to be using.

Offering this kind of always-relevant, always-on relationship resonates with customers and builds greater brand loyalty in a world of digital distractions and shrinking attention spans. In fact, customer-centric organisations are 38 percent more likely to report greater profitability than ones that are not, so centring your digital transformation around the customer is worth every data point and dashboard you can muster.