Digital Transformation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Digital Transformation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Being a consumer today can be frustrating. We are armed with uber powerful, smart devices that encourage multitasking from anywhere there is a connection. But the one obstacle continues to be the companies, small and large, we want to do business with via these devices. For the most part, these companies are not yet as smart as our smart, handheld devices.

It almost feels like being the first fax machine owner. It must have been a terrific feeling, but who could you talk to?

Is the gap between consumers’ smart devices and the digitization of the companies we want to do business with ever going shrink? Or will the consumer’s device always be smarter?

Smart devices have been around for a long time. In 2016 we would not consider ourselves early adopters. However, when comparing smart device adoption to corporation’s adoption of digital engagement technology, many corporation’s global infrastructures are still not as smart as our handheld devices. Case in point, last year Dimension Data reported that two out of five companies say that their current digital channel systems don’t meet current needs and less than half of those companies believe their digital infrastructure will deliver against future needs. With smart phone subscriptions expected to surpass basic phone subscriptions this year, companies are clearly struggling—and already predicting that they will continue to struggle—to keep up with their customers’ digital needs and expectations, starting with true mobility.

Think about that: the consumer experience is ahead of what most companies’ IT can deliver today and your smart device can do things for you that a global IT infrastructure, with all it scale and cost, can’t. It’s a very strange reality.

The reality for these companies is that investments in upgrading and modernizing to digitize an entire infrastructure takes budget, time, planning, and most important, commitment. Yet, not digitizing fast enough can be detrimental to the bottom line if your customers, partners, suppliers can’t interact with you as easily as they can your competitors.

Where to Start a Digital Transformation

After a company has determined that digitizing their infrastructure is an urgent matter and can no longer wait, the next challenge is planning where to start—all the while, your customers are continuing to get smarter devices. Every function, from human resources to procurement to sales to marketing, will benefit. But the truth is that the need to modernize the infrastructure originated with the customer. So doesn’t it make sense that the modernization starts where the customer interacts most—the customer experience center?

I willfully admit that may be an obvious answer coming from the CTO of Avaya. But as a customer myself, I want to do business with companies that prioritize me as a customer, and invest accordingly. I don’t want to read in the press how great their IT is if I cannot get my questions answered or my requests fulfilled and have a poor or lukewarm customer experience.

This goes back to the basics of business success. The basics that are often overlooked in the fast paced, digital world we live in: the customer is always right. The customer is the priority. The customer is why we’re in business. Treat customers as you would want to be treated. Customer. Customer. Customer. You can’t go wrong putting the customer first. User experience is king.

Unfortunately many companies who have, or are undertaking a digital transformation in order to survive, have forgotten that it’s the customer’s experience that is most important, not the company’s experience. Sure the company benefits from a digital transformation—the CAPEX and OPEX benefits are many. Employees will be more efficient, productivity will be up, performance will be easier to assess and modify. But the focus must still be about how the transition will affect the customer’s experience with the company from beginning to end.

Furthermore, the practice of contact center technology management has enabled teams to perfect how to evolve the services associated with the voice channel. Voice is often considered the most complex, technologically challenging channel—voice quality matters, and issues are immediately perceptible. As an industry, we have spent years studying and understanding how to improve upon the quality and delivery of voice to the customer experience. This same ongoing attention to detail, planning and understanding of quality needs to be applied to every additional touch point made available to the customer to connect with you. This is the humanization of going digital.

A Case for Retailers

Take traditional retailers for example. Any traditional retailer that started out as brick and mortar then needed to evolve to online sales in order to survive is compared to the king of online, digital retail: Amazon. One thing Amazon knows is that being a digital retailer is not just about putting products and services online and making them available for purchase. The real value is in defining the actual customer experience of the online shopper, and increasingly the online mobile shopper.

  • Is the online, mobile experience the same experience customers have when they visit a store or better?
  • Is the process for returning an online purchase the same experience as returning at the store or better?
  • If there is a problem with the product after it’s been purchased, is the online, voice, video, chat, omnichannel customer service experience the same as in store or better?
  • Is the customer punished for purchasing online by having to pay added shipping fees?

Notice that none of these questions ask: is the company’s experience the same or better?

This is why starting a digital transformation with the customer experience center, aka the contact center, is the logical starting point. The contact center will never be pure digital because customers expect some human interaction at some point. Add to that, that more often than not, employees—subject matter experts—outside the contact center are more actively involved with customer experience. As a result, every scenario or use case for human interaction needs to be considered and planned for during a digital transformation. Maybe the human interaction is not during the shopping process or the purchasing process. But having the ability—the option—to connect with another human being when questions or doubts arise before, during, or after the purchase is a key part of any customer journey. It builds loyalty and a long-term digital relationship with the customer.

Hidden Benefit of Customer-focused Starting Point

A hidden benefit of starting with the customer experience is that you already have people excited and ready to help you through the transition. I’m not talking about your vendor—obviously they will be there with a plan in place to partner with you through every step—if not, then you have the wrong vendor. I’m talking about your contact center agents.

Many companies when they start this transition have learned that their agents, as customers themselves and in their personal lives, are very comfortable working on multiple channels in addition to talking on the phone. In fact, the learning curve for the agents is often not as time intensive as originally anticipated. They’re excited to be able to engage with customers on any channel and create an integrated, omnichannel experience. More importantly, they understand the benefits of being able to see the customer’s entire experience history with the company—from in-store, to online, to social, to experience with products and services, etc.

That said, for social channels, more than half of companies will typically have a dedicated social response team in place to respond to customers on social channels. But having access to the customer’s history of interactions with the company across all channels, including social, is a relief to any customer interaction agent—contact center or in store. One of the top complaints by agents is not having a complete view into all of the customer’s interactions with the company. No one likes to feel stupid when trying to calm down and possibly save an unhappy customer. Having a complete view of the customer across all channels including an historical view should be a priority. Yet 79% of companies still don’t have this view today.

Many companies will say that the delay in providing their agents with a complete customer journey view is because they are still trying to leverage legacy investments through their digital transformation. Managing a digital transformation of the customer experience center by keeping legacy investments in place, while completely understandable, is not without risk. With more than 2.6 billion global users of smart phones, the risk in delaying a full digital transition is quickly losing business to competitors who are digitizing their entire infrastructure without looking back.

Once the decision to go digital is made and communicated, going digital starting with the customer experience is exciting. It means being able to be more efficient, which makes people more productive. The ability to have each customer’s historical record of interactions across all channels readily available means the agents are better informed about each customer, which allows the agents to do a better job with each customer. It also provides a single location for analytics to work its magic—but analytics is important enough on its own to be the focus of a separate blog at a later date. This is where and how customer loyalty and customer satisfaction start to go up.

It is clear to me that the level of excitement is directly correlated to the fact that your agents/employees are also customers themselves. They are smart device users. They know from experience how painful it is to try to interact with a company that is not yet digitally transformed.

And we’ve come full circle. The customer—more than 2.6 billion smart device users—is the real focus of a digital transition. On behalf of customers everywhere, please don’t forget that.