It takes a focused organization of resources and varying degrees of standardized processes to ensure consistency. And above all, it takes a concerted effort to keep the needs of customers in mind at every step of their journey.
The role of IT in business has evolved. Although the majority of brands recognize its role as a foundation for their digital efforts, IT is becoming a strategic asset to improve business performance. In highly competitive, rapidly changing markets, IT success is often measured by how quickly a brand can adopt the latest technologies to keep pace with changes affecting their business. This leads many firms to falsely believe that upgrading their technology infrastructure will alone drive success. But once implementation is complete, the true measure of success is how enhanced technology improves the customer experience.
The internal structure of a business is designed to create a seamless experience for customers. While customer experience is enabled by technology, it's defined by process. This makes a brand's processes - how each digital touch point is managed from back-end implementation to contact with the customer - just as important as technology. It's not enough to have extensible, world-class technology anymore because more brands have access to affordable solutions and enhanced IT infrastructure, which enable competitors to quickly become "fast followers" in the technology arms race. True differentiation and competitive advantage come from the strategic use of IT and internal processes to deliver a more compelling customer experience.
The average customer has limited knowledge about the complex interactions between different departments that occur to deliver the services they receive. Misaligned processes and siloed systems become evident when customers have a frustrating experience with brands. How many times have you heard from a customer service rep: "Sorry, our systems aren't connected to that particular department," or "Sorry, we don't have access to that information. You'll have to contact another department"? Organizations that use IT strategically to drive their customer experience don't make excuses. Instead, they invest in process as well as technology to ensure their internal business policies don't become a burden on their customers.
It's hard to deliver differentiated value that creates a competitive advantage if IT systems aren't organized to support a seamless customer experience. Standardized processes enable consistent customer experiences through coordinated back-end systems - whether they're managed through a centralized or distributed IT organization. When conflicts between internal systems are reduced, customers experience higher quality interactions with the business. Standardization also helps businesses benefit from simplified decision-making and lower operating costs.
One example of a streamlined IT process is the Ochsner Medical Center. Radiology informatics isn't top of mind for most patients when they have an X-ray or CAT scan. However, it is a big concern for Brian Deshotel, radiology informatics director at Ochsner Medical Center. Deshotel thinks about informatics as part of a satisfying patient experience. Ranked by Thomson Reuters as one of the Top 100 Major Teaching Hospitals in 2014, Ochsner is taking steps to improve its processes along with its IT investment in order to benefit patients as well as its business.
"It's about reducing customers' stress," says Deshotel. Having a medical scan can be a very stressful experience for patients, and any confusion or complication involved with scan results can intensify the situation. "If a patient receives different information from separate facilities after a scan, it creates a bad customer experience and reflects poorly on us." Since 2010, Ochsner has invested in standardizing processes across 10 different facilities to make its radiology services more seamless and coordinated for its patients.
It's difficult to deliver differentiated value that creates a competitive advantage if senior management isn't on board and incentivizing employees across all levels to support cross-functional customer experiences. Executive leadership is critical for developing, implementing, and maintaining seamless customer experiences across internal silos. Engaged leaders help facilitate internal collaboration when competing priorities and personal agendas threaten to derail process improvements aimed at improving customer experience. Consistency across departments and functions is only possible when a shared vision is reinforced on an ongoing basis. Deshotel reminds managers going through the transition to the new standardized process: "It's all about the customer. In terms of importance, I always tell them to think: Customers first, then the organization, then themselves."
Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." To create excellent customer experiences, brands need to adopt the habit of reinforcing process discipline along with their technology implementations. An excellent customer experience isn't guaranteed by having powerful technology. It requires a commitment from all levels of an organization to align priorities within functional silos. It takes a focused organization of resources and varying degrees of standardized processes to ensure consistency. And above all, it takes a concerted effort to keep the needs of customers in mind at every step of their journey.
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McNeal Maddox is the strategy director at Siegel+Gale, based in Los Angeles. His first experience with brand development came in junior high, when, not content to remain mere consumers of comic books, he and his brother formed their own comic book company. The brand name, logo, and signature style they created were so strong that one of their books is a permanent part of the Lynn R. Hansen Underground Comics Collection of Washington State University Library's special collections archive - and they even sold a few.
Since joining Siegel+Gale, McNeal has worked for several clients including Microsoft, Dow AgroSciences, McAfee, Genworth Financial, Yahoo, United Talent Agency, Activision, and PayPal. McNeal previously served as a project manager at FoxSports.com, where he managed the design, development, and implementation of customized promotional campaigns for major advertisers. He also worked as a web developer at ING Advisors Network.
McNeal graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in graphic design, and received his MBA from the University of Southern California.
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