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We need to pivot to strategically improve the end to end customer journey PHOTO: Mark Oakley

The U.S. presidential election season is nearing its final outcome and I, for one, look forward to closure — and to the time when we will stop hearing the buzzword “pivot.”  

Yet maybe it’s time for us all to pivot when it comes to creating better customer experiences.

In political campaigning, pivot has two meanings:

  • The practice of redirecting uncomfortable questions by emphasizing something else that is favorable or
  • A comprehensive change in strategy

While SNL has provided comedy campaign sketches that illustrate the first meaning of pivot, I am talking here about a customer experience pivot in the strategic sense. 

The question is: how can we change our approach to customer experience to make a bigger impact on the journey?

Did Digital Self-Service Improve Customer Experience?

Not that long ago, the “new” strategy for improving the customer experience was to enable better self-service through digital capabilities. That strategy certainly resulted in an increase in self-service activity. Forrester Research’s Customer Life-Cycle Survey found that self-service channel usage increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2014. 

Digital changed the nature of the customer journey.  For example, with digital self-service:

  • We saw a retail purchasing tipping point for online e-commerce, and mobile web and apps. As Fortune reported, the annual comScore survey findings revealed consumers now buy more things online (51 percent) than in stores 
  • In the financial services industry, we saw a near demise of brick and mortar branches. The Future of Banking: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Tellers discussed how banks have deployed ever smarter self-service transaction capabilities like next-gen ATMs and mobile apps  
  • And even the conservative insurance industry saw an increase of consumer preference for online and mobile digital services to identify the products and services that would best meet their need, according to CEB TowerGroup

While I think digital self-service favorably impacted the customer journey, it mainly improved discrete transactions and select touchpoints. To strategically improve the end to end customer journey, a broader pivot is needed.

Self-Service Has Its Time and Place

Here is why I think self-service is necessary but insufficient.

I buy luxury cosmetic products from a leading brand and I always look for special offers. I order based on the state of my supply of product — since I am convinced that being without my moisturizer will age me 10 years within 24 hours — and the email promotional offers that present themselves — because let’s face it, luxury cosmetics do not come cheap.  I do self-service purchases through my mobile app or direct from online. Works for me.  

But last week there was a problem. I received my package with all the great free promotional items, but the actual product I ordered was not in the box. I admit I was steamed. Did I go online or grab my mobile app? No, I called customer service, muttering under my breath that they better make this right. 

The customer service representative was a dream. She was able to see all the information for my account, my order, and the underlying fulfillment and supply chain and distribution information. She apologized and assured me that this was “not what our company is about.” And most importantly, she empathized with my displeasure, respected my time and proceeded to make it right. 

What technology lies beneath to ensure this kind of customer experience?

Pivoting to Bimodal IT is a Mistake

Some companies think the answer to making it right for the customer (and themselves) lies in a pivot to bimodal IT, but Forrester goes to great lengths to explain why this is a mistake. I agree with Forrester. I think Forrester analyst Sharyn Leaver’s post said it best, 

“This is no time to hedge. Strategies like bimodal IT that advocate for silos and two operating speeds may appeal to risk-averse leaders, but bimodal won't get the job done. In fact, it works directly against the key operating principles of customer-obsessed firms … [that] use the customer as the central design point for their business technology strategy and strive to be connected, not siloed.”

In my view, customer-centric process and design are critical. Technology that perpetuates silos is a step in the wrong direction. If my luxury cosmetics company had separated their online e-commerce systems from their other systems and their customer service function that would not have provided me with a good experience. 

The Way Forward: The Assisted Customer Journey

My customer experience is just one example, but it illustrates why we need to pivot toward the digital assisted customer journey. We need a digital layer that can sit lightly atop the silos and begin to pull together the important aspects of the customer journey — data, process and systems — from the customer perspective. 

Why?

Businesses are under increasing pressure to ensure the experiences they provide customers are connected and consistent across all interactions. This is not an easy objective to achieve. As Forrester posits, delivering a seamless customer journey is difficult — if not impossible — with siloed systems, operations and processes.  

A customer-centric view across silos is required. Yet the customer journey has become more fragmented over time, and thus connecting the pieces has gotten more complex. In fact, the most difficult challenge is to maintain a seamless customer experience even when problems occur. 

This is where knowledge workers can play a critical role in smoothing the customer journey, but only if they are properly enabled. 

Pivot to Case Management

Those familiar with my earliest articles in CMSWire know I have been a raving fan of case management for some time now. And now two of my favorite topics have come together in a recent Forrester custom report, “The Future of Work and Customer Experience Requires a Case Management Approach.” 

As Forrester points out, “Using specialist systems — with no integration — makes it difficult to have visibility into the customer journey.”

Because enterprises have automated systems and driven transactions to self-service mobile and website applications, handling exceptions or ad hoc customer issues now occupies the most significant time and costs. 

Now the struggle is to give the ever increasing number of “knowledge” workers — like my customer service representative — the information needed to connect the dots in a world where exception management is increasingly difficult. This is exactly where case management helps delivers better experience along the entire customer journey.  

So no more talk of political pivots please. But a pivot to the digital assisted customer journey — powered by case management — would be quite welcome this November and beyond.