dictionary in a public library
PHOTO: Trevor

Economist Theodore Levitt once said a business's purpose is to "create and keep a customer." This simple statement cut through the business strategies of the time that focused on short-term financial gains. Today’s enterprises know that customers matter and that creating and keeping a customer is about delivering a great customer experience.

Back in 2013 Kerry Bodine wrote in Harvard Business Review: "Forrester’s survey of 100 customer experience professionals, nearly half of respondents said that their executive team’s strategy for customer experience is market differentiation. And an ambitious 13% said that they’ll settle for nothing less than having the best customer experience across every industry." Bodine went on to share that "only 8% of the companies received a top grade from their customers and that’s a pathetically low number in comparison to the amount of professed innovation in the industry." The problem at the time — which remains true today — is people love talking about customer experience innovation, but no one knows what it is or how to attain it. In fact, when customer experience professionals were asked how they are driving their innovation efforts, Bodine "found several misguided approaches that actually thwart differentiation and waste massive amounts of time and money in the process."

Given the role CIOs and enterprise architects play in customer experience, it is important to learn how CIOs define innovative CX today. As you will see, there are differences but fortunately, some important commonalities emerge.

CIOs Define Innovative Customer Experience

I asked CIOs how they defined customer experience (CX). Below are their direct responses to compare and contrast how different CIOs view the matter.

Former CIO Isaac Sacolick: “Great CX is when you value the journey as much as your product or service. Often fulfilled by providing easy access to information and setting personal preferences. Hotels that allow selecting your room, class enrollments showing available seats, and technology that alerts on maintenance.”

Former CIO Tim McBreen: “Great CX is the ability for customer connections to be performed anywhere, anyhow, and whenever they want without the clutter of technical debt getting in the way.”

Healthcare CIO David Chou: “Great CX is easy to navigate, agile and responsive.”

City CIO Jonathan Feldman: “Anything anti-DMV!”

Financial Services CIO Pedro Martinez Puig: “Within fintech markets the fast iteration loops from user feedback to improvements in the app development. Specifically, for the non-banked population that historically has been ignored by the traditional financial services.”

Higher Education CIO Milos Topic: “Great CX reduces the customization and fragmentation of experience across dozens of applications or services which are not well designed or integrated. Also, it simplifies call, email, and walk-in experience by reducing customer friction.”

Higher Education CIO Carrie Shumaker: “In higher education, we often don’t think of our students as customers, and it is true--unlike many industries students are co-creators of the product (the education experience). Key to great experience is giving them the information and tools to easily co-create at the right time and in an easy way.”

Higher Education CIO Paige Francis: “These days I feel like innovative CX needs to be mostly about eliminating complexity. Anything else is a buzzword only.”

Related Article: What Is Customer Experience Management?

What Do CIOs Suggest for Organizations Wanting to Innovate CX?

CIOs had many ideas for organizations wanting to deliver great CX. Here's what they advise.

  1. Realize CX is always in the eye of the customer.
  2. Empathy and customization at scale is always paramount.
  3. Removing friction is critical, regardless of industry.
  4. It takes many interactions to build trust but only one or two failed interactions to damage trust irreparably.
  5. Great customer experience requires great employee experience.
  6. Poor data processes represent “grit in the gears of CX.”
  7. Legacy processes, data and systems are barrier conditions to great CX.
  8. You can present the best CX without a single view of customer.
  9. Mastering CX can never be a one and done effort. It needs continual investment.
  10. CX needs people — people with skills at empathy, understanding and support.
  11. Great CX should start by asking customers what they need and want.

Are CIOs Up for the Customer Experience Challenge?

So what makes a great customer experience? Great customer experience adds value to the customer’s journey with a company. It makes that journey easy to navigate. It aims to eliminate fragmented experiences created by disparate systems and data. By doing so, it seeks to reduce customer friction during the customer journey through integrating systems and data. It is about giving customers the information they need. It is about eliminating complexity.

All of these things together require a digital transformation-minded CIOs. The above CIOs are ready for the challenge, but how many other CIOs are in the vanguard?