customer experience

Up until recently, many businesses regarded the IT department as a cost centre; a key part of the machinery that supported line-of-business (LOB) operations, but not one that added significant value. In the new digital-first era that view is quickly changing.

As companies focus more on digital sales and services and reaching customers through a modern, social, multi-channel strategy, IT becomes absolutely pivotal. Forward-thinking forms now understand that IT can be a key market differentiator and a force that can help make or break the customer experience. This puts the CIO in a central role.

This hasn’t happened overnight. Back in 2016, Albert Ma, then CIO of Toyota Financial Services, told CIO.co.uk that he had seen IT “shift from back-office activities like process improvement and optimized efficiencies to more customer-facing, revenue-generating capabilities.” In a 2017 article for CIO.com meanwhile, FROM CEO Howard Tiersky suggested that the old division between line of business and IT no longer made sense, and that senior IT leaders needed to be intensively involved in the full customer experience.

Last year, the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey found that enhancing the customer experience had become one of the top five biggest priorities for CIOs, and that customer-centric organisations were 38 percent more likely to report greater profitability than those who were not.

This shift is backed up by Salesforce’s own State of IT report, which found that 81 percent of IT leaders thought we were headed into an era driven primarily by customer expectations, and that 79 percent believed they were the primary enabler of customer experience initiatives across their business.

Why the CIO is critical to improving the customer experience

This makes sense. After all, it’s the CIO who is tasked with delivering customer-facing apps and services, and the more customer relationships are fuelled by data, the more crucial it is that CIOs find innovative new ways to use it. For instance, under CTO Shawn Edwards, the business news and data giant, Bloomberg, has transformed its core product, the Terminal, to target users in a more specific way, bubbling up events, data and insights that are pertinent to them. At Centrica, the data science team has developed web traffic monitoring systems that study the customer journey so that support staff know what the problem is before they answer the phone.

IT also provides new channels for customer communication. Vodafone is using chatbots and digital assistants to give customers self-service account information and general help. Meanwhile, Waltham Forest District Council has deployed Facebook and Twitter bots that help local residents report fly-tipping and inform them when the mess has been cleared. Setting these initiatives up takes IT know-how but also an understanding of what the customer is looking for. As Waltham Forest CIO, Paul Neville, told CIO.co.uk, "taking that customer-first mindset, really understanding customer journeys and improving our customer journeys has been an important part of what we've done."

What’s more, CIOs can ensure that interactions are consistent, so that everything the customer does with the business feels part of a single journey. By matching customer requirements to the available technology, working with teams across different business units, CIOs are best placed to guarantee this. Without their steering, an organisation can end up with different systems and data sets and no real cohesion. By working across the business, the CIO can push for the mythical ‘one source of truth’ – the 360-degree view of the customer that 61 percent describe as a major priority.

Becoming a customer-centric CIO isn’t easy and can also require a more face-to-face approach. Alan Crawford, CIO of the City and Guilds group recently told CIO.co.uk that by getting out to meet customers, he got an understanding of what they liked, disliked and needed more of.  Meanwhile, Kevin Murray, COO and CIO of the AXA group, revealed to CIO.co.uk that his IT teams were now regularly involved in face-to-face meetings, and that he himself met personally with customers. As he says, “I find there is no better way to understand how our products can impact them in both a positive and sometimes less positive ways.”