metal typesetting for a printing press
PHOTO: Hannes Wolf

I was in the middle of reading a book on the history of 19th century England when my calendar reminded me it was time to start thinking about the latest column for CMSWire on the subject of "Tech Expectations," which given my off-hours reading rattled around in my brain as "Great Expectations."    

If there’s one literary figure that dominated not only the artistic, but also social, zeitgeist of the nineteenth century, it was Charles Dickens. As well as being a brilliant novelist, commentator, and social reformer, Dickens and his publishers were masters of customer experience.

Charles Dickens: Omnichannel Experience Pioneer?

Dickens wrote in an era of increasing public literacy — the demand for prose was exploding, and different markets and readerships used different channels to engage with the content. Dickens was an early adopter of the omnichannel experience.

The public wanted the serialized monthly magazine installments, the publishers wanted the three-volume novel, and after the creation of the first lending libraries, the demand grew for single volume novels. Writers like Dickens were producing the source content across different channels, to provide different experiences. However all of these experiences were driven by similar baseline technology: the printing press.

Unfortunately it could be argued we’ve lost our way since then, in that with the arrival of digital we have drifted away from the idea of a common source and focused instead on each delivery channel as a distinct entity.

What are our Tech Expectations when the technology is still too siloed? Because of the way most company budgets are organized, the technology is dedicated to  solving vertical business problems, while the true customer experience is a horizontal across every aspect of the enterprise. While technology continues to drive the individual customer touchpoints can we have the expectation of ever delivering a seamless customer experience?

Related Article: The Omnichannel Experience: Once Exotic, Now Expected

How Do We Reconcile Agile and Customer Experience?

Content industry thought leader, Tom Johnson, asked an interesting question in a recent blog post: how does the current trend for independent agile technology development teams impacts the adoption of content strategy? It’s a fascinating question. In the discussion he also tackles how current development trends may also be impacting the customer experience.

If engineers build separate systems that don’t integrate, the user experience also ends up being disjointed and impractical. (emphasis mine) Users might find that … one tool is built on a technology that is incompatible with another. This kind of disjointed hodgepodge of tech is understandable in acquisitions, but few users will understand and be patient with the idea that the single company they interact with is actually made up of dozens of small, independent internal companies that, it has become clear, don’t seem to know what each other is working on or building, since none of the products work together. As a worse case, in massive companies, totally isolated teams might even be working on different solutions for the same problem, unaware of each other’s existence.”

So how do we develop tech expectations that both support the agile entrepreneurial spirit, while still providing the foundations for customer experiences?

Communication is the key. 

Development teams and technologists need to be aware of what others are doing, and an overall awareness of the customer experience needs to cross all boundaries. The old axiom of people, process, then technology has a lot of truth behind it, and needs to be adopted when considering a future path for customer experience.

It’s not only the development teams that need to talk to each other, it’s the systems too. Information  and content needs to flow across bridges between silos. Data, content, and context should follow the customer. Systems need to be better integrated. My tech expectation for the future is standards-based content APIs that are systems agnostic.

Related Article: Does Your Organization Really 'Get' Agile?

The Future of Customer Experience

As in Dickens's time we are undergoing a period of phenomenal social change driven by technology, and along with it are changes in customers expectations. The business model is changing, technology is developing rapidly, new ways of interacting are emerging and social norms are being rewritten. But at its core, we all still want to be able to find answers, be entertained, or conduct business transactions as easily as possible at the place, time, and on the device of our choosing. That’s the future of customer experience.

The customer experience expectation won’t be solved by a single technology or vendor, but by a developing a holistic view of the customer, needs and interactions across all channels, digital and physical. In that way we’ll be ready for voice assistants, AR and VR, chatbots, interactive digital signage and screens everywhere.

Postscript: The phrase “The dickens of …” actually has no connection with Charles Dickens as it was in common use as early as the 16th century. It was originally thought to be a contraction of devilkins, or “little devils” and became a more acceptable substitution for the word devil in an exclamation.