Brian Chaput of  HCL: "simpler, cleaner experiences are preferred versus what you may think of as a complete bells-and-whistles, ‘boil the ocean’ experience that tries to do too much"
Interview

Brian Chaput: Exceptional Digital Experience Is a Balance of Form and Function

9 minute read
Sharon Florentine avatar
Two core tenets have remained constant throughout Brian Chaput of HCL Digital Experience's career: customer support and the value of small wins.

Brian Chaput has seen a lot of change over his 30-plus-year career, but two tenets have remained constant: first, that value lies in supporting customers and, two, organizations on a digital transformation journey should think small(er) to gain short-term success in pursuit of the larger goal.

“My background is centered primarily on technology product management and marketing — well over 30 years now — so I’ve seen a lot of technology approaches to what are really strategic business transformations that are required for sustainability,” Chaput said. “Starting in a technical support role, way back when, is where I learned that it is more aptly described as ‘customer support,’ because that is where the value lay: in satisfying users. It really was the foundation for my growth into the digital experience products I help define today; solutions that enterprises employ to better engage and serve their audiences, digitally,” Chaput said.  

The second critical lesson he learned evolved as his career progressed, and his approach to developing, creating and implementing digital strategies shifted over the years.

"I’ve had the luxury and benefit of being involved with and observing numerous enterprises make great strides in digitally evolving, starting with what now seems simple: establishing a website. That’s perhaps the first step in a digital transformation — though they probably didn’t refer to it as such at the time," Chaput said. "Leap forward several years and now those same entities are in the process of, or may be planning to go fully ‘all digital’ — either because the ability to do so effectively is now truly a reality, or because the current pandemic has made digital execution a must for relevance, if not business survival. The digital evolution is most effective when you consider now all the digital touchpoints to support your entire value chain — your customers, your partners, and, no less importantly, your employees — and work to bring digitized business processes to them in whatever manner is most valuable for them. So, the main lesson learned is take time to define what existing processes you can transform, digitally, to improve user satisfaction, while also gaining operational efficiency. Think small(er) to start to gain some short-term successes.”

Chaput is AVP Product Management at HCL Software. HCL Digital Experience is a sponsor of CMSWire’s DXSummit, taking place Oct. 21 as an online event. We spoke with Chaput about the “ideal” digital experience, digital transformation at scale, and how enterprises should start small and measure low-hanging fruit on the road to a complete digital transformation. 

The Digital Experience Gap

CMSWire: What makes an 'ideal' digital experience? How does that differ from what most organizations are doing, and how can those gaps be filled?

Chaput: Great question! I’ve frequently used terms like 'exceptional digital experiences' and how to define it — and I’ve used the analogy that it’s a lot like art, as it is in the eye of the beholder. A visually attractive experience is one part, but if you as a user can’t then easily find what you are looking for or complete an action intuitively, that’s not exceptional or ideal. Conversely, if you have all the right functions in the experience but users aren’t engaged at the beginning with some persuasive content, that also is not ideal. So, it really is a balance of form and function. 

In the end, the ideal experience is one where the user could accomplish their intended tasks and derive value, without being at all put off or struggling — basically, having a serendipitous experience. The good news is many organizations are now starting to focus on and understand this — especially as we all proceed in the 'new normal' world where digital experiences — while they have always mattered — matter more than ever. 

Digital Experience Acceleration

CMSWire: How do you see digital experience evolving in light of the pandemic? What does this accelerate for you? What does it hinder?

Chaput: Indeed, the pandemic, more than any other force, has accelerated the discussions and actions for organizations in every industry as it pertains to digital transformation in general and digital experiences specifically. 

One of the most pressing requirements we’re seeing clients reevaluate is operational capacity to support unprecedented surges in use. For example, one US state that serves over 11 million citizens with an online government experience has seen daily surges during the pandemic of up to 6 million visits to the site when the Governor completes his daily public briefings — whereas before the pandemic the daily site visits might approach 250,000. The surge is a 3,000% increase, which was never expected. So as we previously discussed in terms of the form and function of the ‘ideal’ experience, what the pandemic has accelerated is also the ability to deliver the experience at unprecedented scale. Organizations must understand and also include this as they rethink their digital experience requirements going forward.

Employees as Digital Experience Ambassadors

CMSWire: What are the biggest obstacles to creating and delivering on digital experience goals? How can companies leverage technology to help? 

Chaput: There probably isn’t one answer here, it really does depend quite a bit on the pace of an individual organization’s digital journey. That is, while we tend to use the words ‘digital transformation’ as a strategic imperative — and it is — I prefer to think most have started the journey already, so it might be better to think in terms of ‘digital continuation.’

So, is everyone aligned that needs to be? Does everyone agree on the next, most impactful steps for the digital experiences they require? That is one obstacle that can consume a lot of discussion, and of course time, especially if the objective or mandate is too large. That is, while customer-facing digital experiences get a lot of the focus, and rightly so, an organization might first consider reimagining the employee digital workplace/experience as it may carry less risk — but also can be a great model and provide learnings that will accelerate the customer or partner digital experiences. 

Technology, like a Digital Experience Platform, or DXP, can help assure reuse of common presentation elements and digital content for brand consistency, for example, in other digital experiences. 

Surely, employees as your brand ambassadors deserve an ‘ideal’ digital experience so they can carry that POV to their customer and partner interactions. That is a primary example of the need to look at all of an organization’s digital touchpoints collectively, and choosing technology that can ease, speed and support multiple experience creation, management and delivery requirements.

Learning Opportunities

CMSWire: How will new technologies and approaches like AI, AR, VR, cloud-native, mobile-first, IoT, machine learning — all the hottest buzzwords — impact the digital customer experience as they become more widespread? How do you see them being leveraged in your area?

Chaput: I believe it is imperative that consideration of any of the new, emerging and ‘cool’ technologies is best looked upon from a practical use/value perspective. Does it measurably improve the efficiency for a practitioner — say adopting AI to replace rote tasks? If so, that has value. Don’t just ‘do AI’ for the sake of claiming AI; assure that the value is identifiable. 

One area I do know is pressing for just about every organization is the explosion of digital touchpoints, including IoT applications, and how to effectively and efficiently exploit and manage those known today and those that will come where a digital experience is resident. Beyond traditional and still-prevalent web and mobile touchpoints, there is the opportunity with internet connected vehicles, appliances, personal wearables and more — does your target audience expect an experience from you there? Will you benefit from delivering experiences to each touchpoint/channel? How will you assure brand, message and thus, experience consistency across all these channels? This again is where a DXP approach can remove internal silos by having one source of digital content and experience management, and also possibly require fewer technology solutions to manage each.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for organizations who want to overhaul their digital experience as part of a digital transformation initiative, but aren’t sure where to begin? How should they measure progress/success?

Chaput: I suggest they start by defining their value chain — as in, the various audiences they want to better serve digitally. Remember, all audiences, be they customers, partners or employees will benefit from a great experience. As an aside, by ‘customer,’ of course, it may be a consumer, but for governments, it is the citizen, for healthcare, the patient or member, for higher ed, the student, etc. For all these audiences, it will require some old fashioned legwork to talk to them, to truly understand what pain points you can solve for them, what preferences they have for consumption of the experience, what killer functionality or service they are drawn to, etc. 

The trend I see is simpler, cleaner experiences are preferred versus what you may think of as a complete bells-and-whistles, ‘boil the ocean’ experiences that try to do too much — and that also can drag out the project timeline, to no one’s benefit.

Like you would with any initiative, be sure to define ‘Why are we doing this?’ and set a few key objectives to measure. The measurement of success will vary by organization, but it is useful to set some objectives for things like visits/access requests, user satisfaction, internal process efficiency gains, cost avoidance/reduction, etc.  

CMSWire: What are you watching or reading these days? TV, movies? Books, Audible? Which ones? And do you see similarities with how these content creators are using digital experiences to keep audiences engaged and grow new ones?

Chaput: I read regularly (and even a bit more now due to the pandemic!) and I’m a sucker for a good crime/mystery series with the same character — too many books to name, but those with a protagonist such as Jack Reacher, Evan Smoak (aka Orphan X), Harry Bosch, Lucas Davenport, and many others. I’m also an eBook fan versus hardcopy, for many reasons, and, as such, the providers of the books know much about me, leveraging and offering through that channel further book selections (the digital content I value) and previews of what’s coming from authors of those series, for example. They have found a way to sell more books by targeting this reader most effectively via digital!

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