Customer Experience in the Digital Age

The dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion is the great­est rev­o­lu­tion in the glob­al econ­o­my since the age of indus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. Entire sec­tors are being turned on their heads, fre­quent­ly before the estab­lished play­ers even notice. Com­pa­nies will need a com­pre­hen­sive dig­i­tal strat­e­gy if they want to use dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for renew­al, and to avoid being caught nap­ping by this devel­op­ment. The PAC study “Holis­tic Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence in the Dig­i­tal Age” inter­viewed 455 exec­u­tives from com­pa­nies in Ger­many, France and Great Britain to acquire an impres­sion of what this actu­al­ly means.

Com­pre­hen­sive dig­i­tal strate­gies are fre­quent­ly lacking

While every­one is talk­ing about digi­ti­sa­tion and accept­ing the process as a chal­leng­ing mar­ket rev­o­lu­tion, most com­pa­nies are nev­er­the­less fail­ing to imple­ment a com­pre­hen­sive dig­i­tal strat­e­gy. Although 69 per­cent of the com­pa­nies inter­viewed have already defined cen­tral cor­po­rate respon­si­bil­i­ty for dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion, only a quar­ter of the study par­tic­i­pants are con­sis­tent­ly putting their dig­i­tal strat­e­gy into prac­tice through­out the com­pa­ny. The com­pa­nies are called on to remem­ber that dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion is not just affect­ed by inter­nal fac­tors, but also by cus­tomers’ exter­nal expec­ta­tions. They are the dri­ving force behind digi­ti­sa­tion, vot­ing with their feet to ensure that no indus­try can hide from the reper­cus­sions of this sweep­ing development.

Digi­ti­sa­tion is unstoppable

Smart­phones are becom­ing the extend­ed arms of con­sumers– remote con­trols in a dig­i­tal world. Each year the accu­mu­lat­ed online time con­tin­ues to rise as a dizzy­ing pace. Today, peo­ple look­ing to hire a car are no longer com­pelled to go to the next rental firm, and can instead use a car shar­ing app on their smart­phones. Any­one who prefers not to dri­ve them­selves will turn to MyTaxi or Uber. While the Ger­man start­up MyTaxi mere­ly trans­lates an exist­ing indus­try into a dig­i­tal ser­vice, the Amer­i­can provider Uber goes a lot fur­ther, replac­ing the tra­di­tion­al busi­ness mod­el with an entire­ly new vision. These exam­ples from the world of mobil­i­ty illus­trate the dynam­ic and sweep­ing change that digi­ti­sa­tion brings to exist­ing mar­kets. They also demon­strate that dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion is unstop­pable: any indus­try that fails to active­ly ini­ti­ate its own trans­for­ma­tion will sim­ply be over­whelmed by exter­nal forces. In con­se­quence, even mar­ket lead­ers in flour­ish­ing indus­tries might find them­selves upstaged, or mar­gin­alised entirely.

Digi­ti­sa­tion is chang­ing con­sumer behaviour

Not only has our dai­ly access to the dig­i­tal world of the Inter­net brought sub­stan­tial changes to our con­sumer pat­terns; it has also strong­ly influ­enced the expec­ta­tions we place in com­pa­nies. Con­sumers are able to encounter their brands, and to receive a con­sis­tent­ly pos­i­tive cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, at any time, wher­ev­er they hap­pen to be: and they cer­tain­ly want it. Ulti­mate­ly, this puts their loy­al­ty to the test, as it only takes a sim­ple click to switch from one brand to anoth­er. Hence, cus­tomer expe­ri­ence becomes a key fac­tor of cor­po­rate strat­e­gy in the dig­i­tal age. Rough­ly 70 per­cent of the com­pa­nies inter­viewed as part of the PAC study have recog­nised this truth, and are deal­ing with cus­tomer expe­ri­ence as a top-lev­el pri­or­i­ty. Anoth­er 21 per­cent also per­ceive the need, but are yet to put any prac­ti­cal steps in place.

Com­pa­ny deci­sion mak­ers have defined cus­tomer expe­ri­ence as a top-lev­el priority

Nev­er­the­less, rough­ly half of the com­pa­nies are hav­ing a rocky ride when it comes to strate­gic imple­men­ta­tion through­out the com­pa­ny, beyond the realm of mere mar­ket­ing. Although 53 per­cent have already ini­ti­at­ed a holis­tic cus­tomer expe­ri­ence strat­e­gy, 36 per­cent of them have done no more than analyse what needs to be done. Indeed, 12 per­cent believe noth­ing needs to be done.

Cus­tomer expe­ri­ence spreads beyond the check­out counter

A holis­tic cus­tomer expe­ri­ence strat­e­gy is defined by its inter­dis­ci­pli­nary struc­ture– involv­ing more than just the com­pa­ny depart­ments asked to deal direct­ly with cus­tomers. Although the inter­vie­wees agree that these depart­ments pos­sess greater clout, they must not be held back by oth­er areas that oper­ate unseen by cus­tomers. For instance, only 21 per­cent of those inter­viewed believe the IT depart­ment is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. Nev­er­the­less, it impacts sig­nif­i­cant­ly on the oper­a­tive involve­ment of oth­er areas con­sid­ered essen­tial, among them cus­tomer ser­vice or billing.

Indi­vid­ual fields of work must col­lab­o­rate with­in a smooth­ly organ­ised and well-oiled struc­ture in order for an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary strat­e­gy to take hold. But the answers giv­en by half of the study par­tic­i­pants indi­cate this remains a prob­lem. Col­lab­o­ra­tion between the depart­ments to pro­duce a holis­tic cus­tomer focus is per­sis­tent­ly inef­fi­cient. 65 per­cent of the com­pa­nies do not have a cen­tral posi­tion respon­si­ble for this area, tasked with ensur­ing a uni­form cus­tomer expe­ri­ence across all touchpoints.

Europe’s com­pa­nies are fac­ing a struc­tur­al chal­lenge when it comes to the top­ic of cus­tomer experience

One con­trib­u­tor to the cur­rent­ly sub­stan­dard degree of col­lab­o­ra­tion may be that respon­si­bil­i­ty for cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, as things stand, is large­ly organ­ised with­out a cen­tral func­tion. Only 14 per­cent of the com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the study employ a cus­tomer expe­ri­ence man­ag­er, or have installed a rel­e­vant depart­ment. 30 per­cent of the com­pa­nies have mere­ly foist­ed respon­si­bil­i­ty onto one of the tra­di­tion­al depart­ments, main­ly mar­ket­ing, sales & com­merce (55 per­cent), fol­lowed by cus­tomer ser­vice (25 per­cent). Indeed, almost two thirds have neglect­ed to cre­ate a new posi­tion, and 58 per­cent of the com­pa­nies state they have no plans to do so in future.

Respon­si­bil­i­ty remains a murky ques­tion in most companies

There is a also clear need to buck up ideas in terms of how cus­tomer inter­ac­tion is organ­ised. Although 80 per­cent of deci­sion mak­ers per­ceive cus­tomer inter­ac­tion across the var­i­ous chan­nels as a cru­cial task, ful­ly 60 per­cent of the com­pa­nies remain in a stage of ear­ly devel­op­ment in this area. Here, the low par­tic­i­pa­tion afford­ed to IT in respect to respon­si­bil­i­ty for cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is almost cer­tain to have a dele­te­ri­ous effect.

Data silos put the brakes on innovation

The inad­e­quate involve­ment of IT cre­ates yet anoth­er prob­lem: in most Euro­pean com­pa­nies the study iden­ti­fied data silos that need to be erad­i­cat­ed. For instance, many com­pa­nies use sev­er­al IT sys­tems that all gen­er­ate cus­tomer data while remain­ing insuf­fi­cient­ly inter­con­nect­ed and with­out any mean­ing­ful sys­tem of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Half of those inter­viewed are aware that they will have to estab­lish an inte­grat­ed IT sys­tem that incor­po­rates all data pro­duced through­out the cus­tomer jour­ney, yet 43 per­cent of those inter­viewed believe IT has a less con­spic­u­ous role to play.

Data silos may well inhib­it cus­tomer experience

Impor­tant com­pa­ny areas are starved of valu­able data with­out an inte­grat­ed IT sys­tem. For instance, the study demon­strates that only one quar­ter of the com­pa­nies pro­vide all depart­ments with cus­tomer con­tact his­to­ry from the online and offline touch­points. The avail­abil­i­ty of cus­tomer pro­files (21 per­cent) is even more restrict­ed. Every tenth com­pa­ny includ­ed in the sur­vey does not even record cus­tomer his­to­ry. These com­pa­nies will be entire­ly unable to cre­ate a cus­tomer expe­ri­ence wor­thy of the title ‘holis­tic’.

Sum­ma­ry: the digi­ti­sa­tion of our soci­eties rep­re­sents, in equal mea­sure, an oppor­tu­ni­ty and a chal­lenge for com­pa­nies. Besides the sweep­ing change process­es that digi­ti­sa­tion brings to entire indus­tries, the focus has again switched back to the cus­tomer, who is now able to enter into con­tact with brands at any time in a dig­i­tal or ana­logue envi­ron­ment. Although this is an immense oppor­tu­ni­ty for com­pa­nies, it will remain untapped unless they can deploy a con­vinc­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ence across all touch­points. An absence of antic­i­pat­ed cus­tomer expe­ri­ence will mere­ly pre­cip­i­tate a quick and sim­ple switch to a dif­fer­ent brand. It fol­lows, there­fore, that cus­tomer expe­ri­ence will occu­py a key role, and will become one of the main unique sell­ing propo­si­tions in com­pe­ti­tion with rivals on the marketplace.

(T_his arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly fea­tured as part of an Upload Mag­a­zine “Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence” spe­cial pow­ered by Adobe)_