Remember February 28, 2017? On that day, most of the internet broke, including Slack, Quora, GitHub, and Trello. A simple typo made by an Amazon Web Services (AWS) engineer resulted in hours of downtime for apps and services hosted on AWS. This wasn’t the first time the internet broke, but it’s a recent example of how easily IT processes can snowball into a bad day for a lot of customers.
Don’t ever doubt the fact that IT management skills, or lack thereof, have a direct impact on customer experience (CX) management. Your company’s customers may not use boss-style jargon, like “digital mesh” or “seamless multichannel experiences,” but they know when tech issues make it hard to work or shop online.
CX may not have changed, but the customer has
The customer experience isn’t a new concept. When ex-miner John Nordstrom used his Alaskan gold rush earnings to start a high-end retail store in 1901, he quickly realized, “I will only be criticized if I don’t take care of a customer.” About 117 years later, this prediction by the founder of Nordstrom has proven to be truer than ever.
What’s changed is customer behaviour. Customers don’t differentiate between your brand’s mobile apps, web apps, social media, or other digital channels. When customer experience management became a digital game, it became a lot easier to ruin a customer’s day with technology that didn’t work like it should.
Here’s how IT can deliver the best customer experiences:
1. Know how CX and IT relate
Although often insulated from customers, IT management skills and decisions have a real impact on customer experiences. According to a report compiled by DataStax, “Are Your Technology Decisions Killing Your Customer Experience?”, customers expect your IT infrastructure to be:
- Engineered for anywhere, anytime availability
- Real-time intelligent
Takeaway #1: Delivering exceptional CX requires solid technology.
2. Fight for your infrastructure—or else
Infrastructure is UX. Your app users won’t shed tears of joy because your clusters are so bursty, but they’ll notice right away whenever there’s downtime. The first order of business in improving IT management skills is to “manage up” by helping leadership realize infrastructure really does have a major impact UX.
In a manifesto, UX pro Nathaniel Davis writes that you need to assert your own reference model. Instead of thinking of the user interface (UI) as the be-all and end-all of UX, you should put information architecture and security testing next to interaction design.
Takeaway #2: If your boss’s boss still doesn’t understand infrastructure matters to CX, someone needs to find a way to make them see the light.
3. Identify any friction with customer exposure
Some of the great tech innovations of 2017, like smarter fashion AI and self-healing printers, were the product of design thinking or customer-focused thinking. Amazing new customer experiences are unlikely to ever be discovered by a company that does the same thing over and over. Disruption happens in the course of understanding your customers better than anyone else. This sweet spot is when customers’ needs are met in a way that practically makes them stand up and shout, “Take my money!”
Design thinking involves using different perspectives to create friction, in turn generating radically different ideas. If there was ever a reason to fight for cross-functional teams, this is it. Combining your IT management skills with sales knowledge of your customers and customer success spells empathy and understanding. When you know your customers, you can hack your way to IT management solutions serving people’s needs.
Takeaway #3: Customer-focused tech management doesn’t always occur from within the IT bubble. Build cross-functional teams and start hacking.
4. Don’t just change—transform
Analysts Ewan Duncan, Kevin Neher, and Sarah Tucker-Ray of McKinsey write that falling into the seven deadly sins of customer experience change is easy. Folks guilty of these sins may listen to squeaky wheels instead of seeing the big picture, focus on quick wins instead of the long-game roadmap, or feel too scared to take risks.
The next great digital innovation from your brand may not originate in the boardroom. It may involve new approaches, including embracing IT management skills you may not be used to or comfortable with—yet. However, transformation in customer experience management rarely follows the path of least resistance.
Takeaway #4: If you’re transforming the customer experience without major change, you’re doing it wrong.
5. Refocus efforts on value-adding activities
IT is dealing with an identity crisis. Who’s got time for strategy when you’re busy putting out fires? DataStax points out that tech experts with the potential for a huge impact on CX, like data architects, are “often consumed by monitoring and troubleshooting, not adding value.” It’s hard to shift away from constant crisis management if you’re so swamped by help-desk tickets you don’t know whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday. Shifting IT’s role to strategic from functional isn’t a simple transition, because it’s a cultural issue.
Your customer experience management approach for this year won’t be a competitive advantage next year. With this knowledge in mind, A.T. Kearney recommends IT teams:
- Maximize the value of IT assets
- Reduce IT complexity
- Focus innovation on the customer
- Create a more strategic IT organization
When your endpoints can fight hackers, they’re easier to manage. While reducing IT complexity isn’t easy, outsourcing and investing in better, more modern tech can reduce the number of fires you need to put out on any given day.
Takeaway #5: If you’re focused on making your tech work instead of making it better, IT can’t contribute to strategic change in the customer experience.
As an IT pro, you’re doing the best you can to fight hackers, ensure uptime, and deal with help-desk requests. That said, it’s strategically risky not to be viewing your tech decisions for what they are—the backbone of providing seamless and modern digital customer experiences. It’s time to fight for a more customer-focused strategic approach to IT decisions.