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This is the second of a three part series of guest blog posts on digital transformation from Neil Ward-Dutton, co-founder and Research Director at MWD Advisors. Neil recently talked to us about the power of ‘digital threads’, that utilise modern, open technologies to weave together organizational silos, in a recent webinar. You can watch ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now.  Here, Neil examines how these digital threads can support the customer journey…

In the first post of this series, I highlighted how there are in fact two perspectives on digital transformation that are both important. The first is focused on transforming your technology estate to implement widespread adoption of digital technologies and platforms; and the second (less common) is focused on using digital platforms and technologies to change how change works.

In this second post I’m going to look at how the common entry point for digital transformation – customer experience improvement – drives the need to create ‘digital threads’, and what this means for the platforms you need in your business.

It used to be so easy: customers learned about products from suppliers’ in-store personnel, newspapers and magazines and their friends. If you wanted to buy something, you ordered it over the phone or went to a store to make the purchase. If you had a problem, you called the supplier or went back to the store. The balance of power was very much in favour of suppliers.

Knowledge and power have shifted to customers

Over the past decade the explosion in use of the World Wide Web – in multiple forms, across multiple networks and from multiple kinds of device – has shifted the availability of knowledge, and the balance of power that goes with it, very strongly towards the customer.

This knowledge shift has started to create big changes in customer research and buying cycles, and as a consequence any organization trying to sell products or services directly to customers now has to reassess how they engage and service customers’ needs. In the past, customers had to come to you in ways you specified, because you had the information that could help them get what they wanted. Now information is everywhere. Customers don’t have to engage with you in ways that you specify, and they don’t want to.

You have to go where customers want to be and engage with them in ways that make sense to them – across multiple online and off-line channels and venues. Why? Because globalization has put an end to sustainable competitiveness based on product /service price or features. Competing effectively today means considering broader customer experience issues. In addition, although customers are more demanding than they have ever been, it’s still easier to win business with existing customers than win new ones. Showing you care about customers helps you keep them as competition intensifies.

Customers’ experiences follow from the journeys they take

When trying to improve your customers’ experiences, trying to improve isolated interaction points is only going to take you so far. What can appear to be a series of one-off interactions from your perspective is actually part of a journey from your customer’s perspective – and that journey can be intensely frustrating for customers, even if individual interactions within that journey pass off without problems.

The concept of a “customer journey” is a great place to start if you want to enhance the customer experience at your organization – understand this and you can begin to deliver great customer experiences. Delivering great customer experiences means understanding that each customer journey needs to be seamless and natural.

The crucial thing to realise is that for almost any organization, customers’ journeys are not shaped solely – or even mostly – by the user experiences you enable through a corporate website or social network page. It’s seductive to focus principally on how people flow through online properties, because we have established site analytics tools that enable us to understand these flows. But the danger in doing this is that you quickly begin to slip back into ‘inside-out’ thinking – looking at the world from the perspective of your organization, rather than from the perspective of the customer.

At a high level a typical customer journey will have four major phases, each of which will probably have multiple elements within it: learn (about your product or service); buy; receive; and use. Additionally, it pays to consider other activities that are integral to customers’ end-to-end experiences and your ability to excel: get help (when things go wrong or the customer doesn’t understand something); and tell friends (about good or bad experiences).

You’ll see from this perspective that customer journeys will rely, either directly or indirectly, on capabilities and services provided across your marketing, sales, operations and customer services functions. In addition, each journey may well traverse multiple brands, venues, and channels. It may also include interactions with third parties (one trivial example would be interactions with delivery agents).

Customer journeys must be supported with ‘digital threads’

From an ‘outside-in’ (customer-focused) perspective, the key characteristic that shapes a seamless journey is integration – integration of the customer’s experience across the activities marketing, sales, operations and customer services teams; and integration across brands, venues, channels and so on.

However looking ‘inside-out’ the operational picture is never simple. A great many large, established organizations have spent at least a decade dispersing their operations across entities and locations: working through more and more specialised partners, creating shared-services centres, outsourcing functions, and so on. Even where globalisation hasn’t had a major impact on operations, though, it’s rare to find an organization’s operations that are aligned with a customer’s perspective and expectations.

This of course creates a massive tension. How do you create an integrated experience and drive great customer journeys, in the reality of your organization’s operations.

The answer is to work to digitise your operations with a modern digital business platform. This allows you to co-ordinate work and share knowledge at scale across locations, teams, and technology platforms – creating ‘digital threads’ that run right through your business, making sure you keep your promises to your customers and demonstrating that you operate within the bounds of industry regulations.

These digital threads will enable your people and systems to share the context and content they need to seamlessly support different stages of customers’ journeys – even as those journeys touch the capabilities of your marketing, sales, operations and customer services teams (and even perhaps teams from key partner organizations).

To return to our title: CX is not UX. Focusing on UX will take you a certain distance: but really considering end-to-end customer experience means looking at how your internal capabilities align and integrate across business functions – and then supporting that alignment and integration with a modern digital business platform.

In the last part of this series, I’m going to explore some of the other features and capabilities that a fit-for-purpose digital business platform needs to exhibit.

About Neil Ward-Dutton

Neil is MWD Advisors‘ co-founder and Research Director, and is one of Europe’s most experienced and high-profile IT industry analysts. His areas of expertise include business process management (BPM), enterprise architecture (EA), Cloud computing and digital strategy. Neil acts as an advisor to large organizations across a range of sectors and industries as diverse as FSI, retail, utilities and government, as well as to leading technology vendors. Neil was this year’s keynote speaker for the BPMNext Conference in Santa Barbara, CA.

You can watch Neil’s recent webinar for Alfresco ‘Connecting the Digital Threads: What’s Powering Digital Transformation in forward-thinking organizations?’ on-demand now.

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