Our financial services industry client didn't know exactly what systems had to be “up” for a particular feature to work on their customer portal. Furthermore, they did not know what level of performance was required for the customer to have an excellent experience. When the customer experience declined,
there was no warning and plenty of confusion. The ensuing finger pointing drove the need to understand the collective impact of disparate systems on the customer experience, and to have a proactive warning system in the event that it deteriorated.
This state of affairs is common and understandable: we operate in complex environments that were built over time, IT is expected to deliver at the speed of digital thought (which doesn't allow time for good hygiene) and organizational dynamics and politics are a powerful force that can foster a lack of coordination.
The business leaders of my customer's organization had no insight into the customer experience. They had a report from the incident management group that showed 20 services that supported the customer portal, but these services were not mapped back to any particular customer journey, and the health of these services was based on general indicators (e.g., system up or down). However, the business leaders knew that there were over 250 services involved, so they were only seeing a small part of the picture. The insight they desired would also require more granular measures of system performance, and the contribution of each component to a positive or negative customer experience. Most importantly, they did not have a consolidated view of system performance from the perspective of the customer; their report only revealed IT's view, which was more about the infrastructure, and not at all about the customer.
My client had attempted to map the customer journey before but was unable to do so because there was a lack of cross functional ownership and ultimate accountability on a customer journey level. The Businesses and IT needed to expand their vision of system performance beyond infrastructure health, and to focus on the Customer Experience.
Understanding the Customer Experience, Step by Step
Customer experience work involves taking one journey at a time and mapping the steps a customer takes within each journey. This is accomplished through interviewing service owners, development and IT Ops personnel. Each step is then mapped back to dependent systems, and since the associated operational data is generally coming from unique data sources, the data is normalized. Algorithms are then created which provide a consolidated view of the customer experience, and indicators of "good" and "poor" experience. Once the algorithms are created, each system is instrumented to provide the required performance data, and this data is fed back to a dashboard that provides simple visual indicators of the customer experience.
Researching visual solutions is critical. The resulting solution will require an Executive view, Service Owner view and SRE (service reliability engineering) view. Iterating the user interface until they work for the intended audience is key. Having information available in a clean and easy-to-read dashboard enables easy digestion and quick decision making.
The "Tool Paradox"
Many of my customers have a plethora of monitoring tools, but they often have too many insufficient tools (and overlapping software licenses!). This leads to a lack of actionable or insightful data. The reason for this state of affairs is that each department or group purchases the tools they need to monitor technologies within their area of responsibility. These tools are usually monitoring silos of infrastructure activity, and are not contributing to a clear picture of the health of an overall business service or an understanding of what the customer experience is like. Despite a large (and sometimes staggering!) spend on monitoring tools and the AIOp
s platform, many customers are not getting the business value they should.
This is a huge opportunity for IT, which often struggles to articulate its value to the businesses. If monitoring tools and the AIOps platform were geared toward a hyperfocus on the customer, the businesses would listen. If the businesses could see a direct connection between IT components and the customer experience, IT wouldn't have to exert so much effort on trying to get the investment they need to be successful. Areas that require investment would be crystal clear.
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This customer experience mapping exercise was successful this time because it was sponsored by the businesses, and required collective accountability and cooperation. I'm not saying it was easy though, but the effort was worth the results. The Executive Sponsor funded eight additional journey projects, and this work inspired an organizational change which added a new support tier.
"Hyperfocus on the customer" is the number one corporate strategy you'll hear these days because the complexity of today's organizations has caused the customer, and his experience, to be forgotten. Walker, a customer experience consulting firm stated in their 2020 study of “The Future of B-To-B Customer Experience” that, "if companies are to succeed in a new era in which empowered customers have loftier expectations, virtually every aspect of the business must determine how they contribute to elevating the customer experience."
I predict that mapping a customer’s journey across numerous digital channels isn't going to be a luxury over the next few years, it is going to be a competitive necessity. Operational failures that can be detected and eliminated before a customer has a negative experience will be critical for ensuring a happy customer who doesn’t abandon a brand for its more in tune and in touch competitor.