It’s hard to overstate the importance of customer experience for consumer facing businesses. Gartner research finds that more than two-thirds of firms now compete on the basis of customer experience, while Altimeter claims that it’s the main reason companies invest in digital transformation projects in the first place, writes Sudarshan Dharmapuri, SVP Products at IMImobile.
Organisations are trying to deliver the sort of seamless experience that makes the customer’s life as easy as possible, adopting new customer interaction channels such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, and making greater investments in areas such as automation, AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) so that customer interactions are easier and more accessible.
However, being agile enough to support new communication channels isn’t always easy. The majority of IT estates in use today were built for the PC era and later adapted for mobile. The shift to a more conversational style of customer interactions has therefore been difficult, as backend systems often don’t natively support new channels and shifts in interaction patterns. As a result, customer communications have tended to evolve in a piecemeal fashion as different messaging apps and channels have grown in popularity. Companies have tried to manage and integrate these channels with business systems themselves but are finding this approach increasingly unsustainable. Many companies have relied on bringing in developers to create bespoke integrations between business systems and communication channels. This programming-intensive approach is expensive and time consuming, costly to maintain and evolve on an ongoing basis, and leads to proliferation of application silos, which are difficult to manage over time.
The Skills Gap
Customers today expect rapid and frictionless experiences. For organisations, meeting these expectations brings opportunities to drive cost savings through the automation of existing journeys and to take advantage of the possibilities opened up through the capabilities of new channels. However, stretched IT departments may find this difficult, and their reliance on specialist developer skills poses a skills challenge in the event of the original development staff being unavailable or leaving the business entirely.
The bad news is that this developer skills gap is a very realistic prospect. Developers aren’t known for sticking around – more than half (57 percent) have switched jobs in the past two years. The result is that even the most straightforward changes to customer journeys can take a great deal of time, yet this is a luxury companies cannot afford in today’s fast paced digital world.
Keeping It Simple
So how can this issue be solved? To start with, organisations need to find a way of working around the issue of developer availability and empowering the wider business to build and manage their own customer journeys.
This is where a low-code approach can be particularly effective. Visual composition and ‘drag and drop’ functionality can allow non-technical employees to build, change and optimise customer journeys in real-time. A low-code approach also democratises development, lessening the burden on IT developers and, at the same time, significantly reducing development overheads and costs.
In practice, this means when a new communication channel is adopted, it can be easily built into existing workflows without the need to rip and replace existing systems or create new application silos. Being able to use simple building blocks to build new customer journeys can significantly improve business agility and innovation. For example, a utilities company could enable customers to report complaints or submit meter readings over messaging apps. They could also use Facebook Messenger bots to address routine customer queries and reduce the number of calls coming into their contact centres.
Putting It All Into Place
Ultimately, time is of the essence. Today’s digital world moves at breakneck speed, and organisations can’t afford to wait for the outcomes of large-scale, multi-year transformation projects when customers demand a smooth, sophisticated experience now. For large organisations with disparate IT systems, being able to create, develop, test, deploy, scale and monitor new customer journeys is a considerable undertaking from both a time and cost perspective.
A platform-based approach can help ease this burden. Sitting between business systems and communication channels, customer communications platforms provide flexible inbound and outbound integrations between the two, allowing businesses to extend the longevity of systems they have already invested in. The end result is that organisations can innovate faster, rapidly changing the customer communications environment in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise while also meeting customer demands for real-time interactions.
Creating a great customer experience should be a collaborative effort across the organisation. Different personas, ranging from architects and data scientists through to customer process and operations staff all have a role to play in shaping the customer journey, whether it’s the initial testing and deployment or analysing the results to continually improve the experience.
As such, organisations need to ensure that the platform they choose empowers relevant individuals and departments across the business, allowing them to be just as capable of changing things as a developer is, which ultimately positions the organisation to meet the growing experience expectations of their customers.