WHAT IS CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE INTEGRATION?
How do I create a winning customer experience when it is delivered across many organisational silos and managed in different systems?
As every executive now knows, it’s the customer experience that now drives value in the market. And there may be nothing more detrimental to that experience than making customers navigate your arcane maze of internal applications and business processes. Customers don’t care how you operate internally.
They just want a simple, intuitive experience in which they are the star – and are no longer willing to accept anything less. But as every executive also knows, that type of seamless, integrated experience has been difficult to create.
WHY INTEGRATION IS ESSENTIAL TO THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE?
A Guest Introduction by Charles Araujo, Keynote speaker - Best-selling author - Technology industry analyst
By now, you’ve heard it a thousand times: the customer experience is essential.
But why? And why is it so hard?
Throughout the industrial age, organisations created value by optimising their supply chain — it was all about delivering a mass product to a mass market as efficiently as possible. Everything was oriented around this objective. It gave rise to everything from just-in-time manufacturing to Six Sigma, and everything in between. As we’ve entered the digital era, however, the rules have changed.
Think about the battle between Walmart and Amazon. Walmart built what is unquestionably one of the most massive and efficient supply chains the world has ever seen. And they rode that optimisation into becoming one of the world’s largest and most successful companies.
The company should have been unassailable. But today, it is threatened by Amazon on almost every front. Why?
Is it because Amazon built a better supply chain? No. While Amazon’s supply chain is world class, that is not what drives its value — or valuation. Instead, it is the customer experience Amazon delivers that is unmatched in the world of retail (and now spreading into other markets).
Creating that type of WOW experience, however, is extremely difficult.
While Amazon.com appears to be a single storefront-type website, the reality is that it hides within its apparent simplicity a dizzying number of applications, business processes, and suppliers — all of which must work together seamlessly and transparently to deliver the type of game-changing customer experience that we all now expect, and which has catapulted them to market domination.
Everywhere you turn, there is plenty of talk about the customer experience. But there is little conversation about the hard work of delivering the kind of customer experience that will change the game for your organisation — or the secret ingredient that brings it all together: integration.
Let’s change that!
THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS A JOURNEY OF MOMENTS
Years ago, back before Amazon was the juggernaut it is today, I was on the website browsing books on gardening (I had just moved to a new area, with a new climate). I ultimately decided that given my lack of gardening skills, I would be better off hiring a gardener than buying a book!
You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when a few weeks later I received a small package in the mail from Amazon. Inside the box was an envelope of seeds and a letter that said something to the effect of, "We see that you were browsing books on gardening. With Spring approaching, we thought we'd help you get a head start. Enjoy the seeds and here's to a bountiful harvest."
It was unquestionably a “WOW Moment” that I have relived — and retold — countless times.
Part of the reason that many organisations struggle with creating a WOW customer experience is that they look at it as synonymous with the buying process. Amazon, however, demonstrated that it understands that the customer journey was not about a single transaction or even a single purchasing process, but rather that it was a series of moments — most of which were not, in fact, a purchase transaction.
As you think about your own journey as a customer — regardless of what you’re buying — you’ll see the same thing play out. Your journey begins the moment you realize you have some need, moves through a discovery and exploration process, eventually leads to a purchase decision and transaction, and then kicks-off an often long series of actions in which you consume, evaluate, and share your opinions on the process you just experienced.
The actual purchasing process is the smallest part of the whole thing. All of these other moments when your customer is interacting with you in some way, both before and after their purchase, make up the bulk of their experience with you.
In most organisations, however, those moments are disjointed and disconnected. What they lack is integration.
THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE INTEGRATION CHALLENGE
On the surface, it feels as if solving the problem of these disjointed and disconnected moments shouldn’t be that hard. After all, even if they aren’t integrated today, we’re in the modern, digital era in which we can integrate everything, right?
Unfortunately, not even close.
The reasons this type of customer experience integration is difficult are rooted in the industrial age foundations of what now make up these experiential moments: the drive for optimisation.
The key to optimisation is to break work down into manageable components and then relentlessly make them simpler, more streamlined, and more efficient. The result, particularly after decades or sometimes hundreds of years, is highly siloed functional organisations that are very good at performing a narrow set of tasks.
The downside to this highly focused efficiency, however, is that it causes functional organisations to be almost entirely blind to what else happens to the process, the data, and the customer on either side of their narrow functional domain.
This blindness has led functional teams to implement systems, establish data models, and create policies and procedures that best serve their optimisation needs without regard to the impact they may have on anything else — notably, the customer experience.
The result is a mishmash hodgepodge of systems, processes, and cultural artefacts that make the otherwise simple-sounding process of integrating these now vital customer experience moments into a Herculean task.
WHY INTEGRATING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS ABOUT MORE THAN DATA INTEGRATION
This mishmash of systems, processes, and culture is also why most efforts to integrate the customer experience go wrong: they only focus on a single element.
When most enterprise leaders hear the word integration, they immediately think about data integration.
This assumption is understandable. We've all been engaged in a never-ending battle to get our data where we need it and, therefore, immediately associate the idea of integration with the technicalities of moving data around.
While data integration is clearly a factor in creating an integrated customer experience, it's rarely the primary inhibitor or enabler — at least not by itself.
Think about any exceptionally good or bad customer experience moment you had that transcended two functional teams within an organisation. Inevitably it was not their ability to integrate the data that was the essential driver of a good or bad experience. Instead, it was their ability to integrate their internal processes and communications that almost certainly made the difference.
The ability to integrate the data is necessary, but only in the context of integrating the broader process and cultural elements that enable internal functional teams — and their systems — to work together seamlessly.
As you might suspect, however, that makes integrating the customer experience a much thornier challenge than merely integrating systems and data sets.
MAKING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE INTEGRATION REAL - How to GET STARTED?
If you’re ready to tackle the customer experience integration challenge, there are three places to start:
1. CURATE THE EXPERIENCE FROM THE CUSTOMER’S PERSPECTIVE
If you want to WOW your customer, you need to begin the process of creating an integrated customer experience from the customer's perspective.
The glaring obviousness of that statement is in direct proportion of how often it is not the case.
Bring together a group of enterprise leaders and tell them to integrate the experience and they will almost immediately start talking about systems and data. The first step is to fight this inclination and turn it upside down.
The place to begin must be in the customer’s shoes.
You can employ customer journey mapping, do a Gemba Walk (in which you observe your customer on their journey), or do whatever else you need to do to firmly plant your feet in the moccasins of your customer and then see the integration challenges from their perspective — all before you have a single conversation about systems or data.
2. INTEGRATE AT THE PROCESS LEVEL
Recognizing that the most significant barrier and enabler of an integrated customer experience is the process, communication, and cultural interactions that must occur between internal teams and external partners, it is essential that you focus your integration efforts accordingly.
Even when teams can get the proper customer orientation, they often lose it the moment they begin their actual integration work because they immediately delve into the realm of bits and bytes.
The customer, however, only cares about the integration of data and systems incidentally. What they actually care about is the integration of the process and the elements that surround it.
To successfully create and sustain a customer experience that transcends moments and functional teams, therefore, it is essential that you manage your integrations at the process level — and let the data and systems integrations flow from that focus.
3. BE READY TO ADAPT
Perhaps the greatest challenge when it comes to integrating the customer experience is that unlike traditional data-centric approaches to integration, it is anything but static.
You cannot measure the success of a customer experience integration by whether or not data ends up in the right place — you can only measure it by the satisfaction of the customer.
If the customer is not delighted, it does not matter how technically successful the integration — and today’s customers are fickle.
You must, therefore, ensure that you are prepared to rapidly adapt your integrations — at the process level — to meet changing customer demands or expectations. To do so, you must be able to quickly change systems, processes, partners — anything — that may adversely impact the experience or which will enable you to take your customer experience to another level.
If you want to make an integrated customer experience a reality, this is the place to start: with the customer. Keep your focus here, and you'll come out on top every time.
Related reading about customer experience integration:
ONEiO’s B2B integration hub, however, makes it easy for you to close this gap and deliver such an experience effortlessly, quickly, and reliably. The hub’s unique architecture enables organisations to build integrations at the business process (and, therefore, customer experience) level. And because ONEiO handles all the technical details on an on-going basis, you can focus on delighting your customers rather than maintaining your integrations.
If you would like to learn more about how ONEiO could help you achieve the ideas and solutions discussed in this article, get in touch with our expert team today, who will be happy to discuss your customer experience integration goals.
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