CX and the CIO: How IT chiefs shape customer experience
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CX and the CIO: How IT chiefs shape customer experience

Jessica Twentyman — June 2014

Technology increasingly underpins customer experience. We talk to leaders in both technology and marketing about the CIO’s role in delivering great customer journeys.

Customer experience (CX) has long been a critical focus for business leaders across most industry sectors, whether they are in sales or service, marketing or ecommerce. Until recently, though, it has not been something that the CIO was expected to play a central role in addressing. In the age of the connected customer, however, that is changing fast.

As CX experts characterize it, every customer journey is marked by a set of ‘touchpoints’ — or interactions — with the provider of the particular product or service they’re looking to buy or use. These days, though, almost every one of these touchpoints is digitally enabled: from advertising and marketing to purchase and customer service.

But the digital influence doesn’t stop there. Satisfied customers — as well as dissatisfied ones —will frequently broadcast their experience for the world to see social networking platforms, customer review sites and blogs. These, in turn, form an important part of the evaluation process for other, would-be customers.

In other words, technology now plays a part in every stage of the customer journey, and every company now needs to involve its CIO in CX initiatives. A recent Gartner survey showed how customer experience management was a top three investment target for senior executives over the next five years. And Forrester Research analyst Nigel Fenwick went further in a blog post from last year: “In the new era of always-connected customers... customer experience is so critical that I predict it will become the number one priority for CIOs.”

“Technology professionals need to commit to playing a bigger part in customer experience by educating marketers about what technology is capable of.”

This is potentially fertile ground for increased collaboration between CIOs and their counterparts in the marketing function, according to Adrienne Liebenberg, global B2B marketing director at BP Castrol, which sells oils and lubricants to companies in the industrial, maritime and energy sectors.

C Adrienne Liebenberg BP
Adrienne Liebenberg, global B2B marketing director at BP Castrol


“Marketing execution is now so dependent on technology,” she says. “Our ability to price, innovate and converse with customers and the market is hugely dependent on IT infrastructure, but does not always feature high enough on the IT agenda.”

“Technology professionals need to commit to playing a bigger part in the customer experience by educating marketers about what technology is capable of delivering and what it is enabling for other companies,” she says. “By constantly working at the CMO/CIO relationship, the better chance a company has to become greater than the sum of its parts in customer experience terms.”
Where touchpoints and technology meet

Prioritizing CX is certainly something that David Walker, head of IT strategy and architecture for the consumer banking group at Singapore-based DBS Bank, takes very seriously. “We don’t start a piece of work now without detailing the customer journey; walking in their shoes to appreciate the value we can bring to them,” he says. “The customer journey,” he says, “is where we identify how customer touchpoints and technology meet.”

For most CIOs, that’s going to involve a mapping exercise, based on working out possible customer routes to purchase (and repurchase), and the technologies they’ll touch along the way.

But this is not all about tweaking the user interface. Sometimes, the answers generated from the customer journey mapping require a fundamental re-engineering of back-end systems and processes. As Nigel Fenwick at Forrester said in his blog post: “Customer experience winners look to do more than stick an Elastoplast [or Band-Aid] on customer service through superficial technology changes. Instead, they examine all the people, processes and technology behind every step, identifying all the systems, applications and data that support the journey.”

“As CIO, putting myself in the customer’s shoes is an incredibly useful exercise for me.”

Taking a superficial approach to customer experience isn’t an accusation that could be thrown at Michael Ibbitson. By his own admission, the CIO of London’s Gatwick Airport can be seen taking “copious notes” every time he takes a flight to or from its terminals.

In the average passenger such attention to detail might seem, at best, obsessive. In Ibbitson’s case it’s entirely justified. As Gatwick Airport’s CIO, he was brought into the role two years ago to support the management team in its explicit goal of transforming the passenger experience.

C Gatwick Michael Ibbitson
Michael Ibbitson, CIO, Gatwick Airport

As well as ensuring that the airport’s IT is delivering to the business’s day-to-day needs, when Ibbitson is flying he records how long it takes him to check in, to clear security and to reach the gate. He’ll also pay close attention to the service he receives in the departure lounge’s shops and restaurants. On a return journey, like fellow inbound passengers, he’s mostly concerned with the time it takes to disembark from the aircraft, pass through passport control and be reunited with his luggage.

“Putting myself in the customer’s shoes is an incredibly useful exercise for me,” he says. It shines a light on problem areas where new technologies might help, as well as giving him the satisfaction of experiencing at first-hand the improvements that he and his team have already delivered for the 34.2 million passengers who pass through Gatwick each year.

These learnings, he says, feed directly into his meetings with Gatwick’s CEO and COO, particularly those that concern plans to redevelop the North Terminal. Gatwick’s work on improving the passenger experience is also a major plank of its bid for the right to build London’s next runway — a battle in which it’s going head to head with London Heathrow.
Naked personas

Meanwhile, at online wine retailer Naked Wines, chief technology officer Derek Hardy is about to embark on his own CX mapping journey.

It’s still early days, he stresses, but he already has a three-stage strategy in mind:

• First, he’ll identify customer types or ‘personas’: new customers, repeat customers, regular subscribers and so on.

• Second, he’ll identify various stages they go through on their journeys: discovery, initial purchase, post-purchase advice and support, repeat purchases.

• Lastly, he plans to devise a grid, where customer journey stages lie on the x-axis and technology touchpoints lie on the y-axis. “By superimposing that grid with sales volume data, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to see where our strengths and weaknesses lie” he says.

The grid can easily be reproduced to represent the journeys taken by different personas. It’s a way, says Hardy, of simplifying a task that has huge potential to quickly become overly complex.

“In my research I’ve seen other visualizations used: flowcharts, webs and so on — but some are so complex that you’d give up before you’d got anywhere.”

Other organizations favor different approaches. But at DBS Bank, David Walker’s advice to fellow technology leaders is the same, whatever approach they take: “Think and act like a customer. Steer investment into areas that create the right customer experience. Ensure the word ‘customer’ is used often among the people you lead. Ensure they understand that it’s important to you, and it will become important to them.”

Or as the late Steve Jobs put it, way back in 1995, when he was just 29: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around.”

• See the former CTO of Obama for America, Harper Reed, on how great user experience helped put a President in White House for a second term.

First published June 2014
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