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PHOTO: Meghan Schiereck

When developing customer-facing software, the end-users’ overall experience is vital to business retention and informing the next stages of development. Customers today are increasingly aware of the options available to them. People want unified, smooth, continuous interactions with the brands they follow and the products they use, which puts technology at the center of these experiences.

From a brand perspective, technology can provide deep insights into what customers expect from their interactions. So for most organizations, a customer-centric IT strategy must go far beyond simply setting up a CRM solution and enabling customer support.

Let’s explore why customer experience (CX) is so important in the software development process, and what technology leaders can do to integrate a CX mindset into their projects.

Customer Experience Primer

The concept of customer experience is widely known in the business world, so we’ll keep this brief: CX has been defined as, “The quality of all of a consumer’s encounters with a company’s products, services, and brand.” It comprises every interaction a customer has with your brand or products, from the very first encounter.

The challenge for many technology executives is translating that into their product strategy. Here are a few pointers for achieving that.

Related Article: How Customer Expectations Are Driving Product Thinking in Some Surprising Places

Prioritize User Experience

First you'll need to establish visual consistency across all touchpoints. Apple’s hardware and software are great examples of how a consistent visual identity creates loyalty among customers. Ease of use and speed are also key factors, so work closely with your UX/UI teams to move your product development in this direction.

User feedback plays a significant role in this process. You must have the ability to capture high-quality user feedback and interaction data. Taking it one step further, real-time data can help your teams understand customer behavior and expectations on the fly, enabling them to keep users engaged at the most impactful moments.

Remember to loop that feedback back to the customers, as this higher level of engagement helps to build and retain user loyalty. Interactions like notifications, likes, follower counts, upvotes and comments represent a few of the ways you can implement feedback loops.

Gathering feedback is only the beginning, though. The real reward comes with the use of feedback and insights to improve the software iteratively.

Related Article: Customers Can Tell When No Thought Goes Into Product Design

Act Fast on Customer Feedback and Stay Connected

Obtaining customer feedback is an ongoing, continuous process that’s fully aligned with the iterative process of software development. At every possible opportunity, you should be improving how you gather data and understand customers as the product evolves and changes based on previous feedback.

It’s absolutely necessary to prototype and iterate quickly to further enhance CX — today’s customers don’t like waiting and expect instant fixes to their problems.

Barely a decade ago, pushing out updates and releases was a semi-annual thing at best. Now, they’re practically an everyday occurrence, so there’s no excuse for leaving your customers out of that process. After all, the more they know, the better their experience.

Related Article: Customer Feedback: A Goldmine in Your Midst

Driving Forward with Insights

Don't get caught up in vanity metrics. For example, it doesn’t matter how many millions of users you have if most of them are unhappy using your product. Instead, switch to an insight-driven approach that helps to understand customer behavior in the real world.

People use your product because they see some value in it. Ask yourself, what is the source of this unique value? What does the data you collect really mean? What does it show about how customers are interacting with your brand? These unique insights are far more valuable for driving the development of new features and improvements. (As a quick aside, Forrester has a useful CX Index that companies can use to measure their performance in this area.)

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Align the Organization Around the Customer

Technology leaders increasingly need to collaborate with other members of the C-Suite to create a singular vision of how the company can attract and retain customers.

The CMO and CTO/CIO in particular need to closely collaborate as the marketing function is critical in engaging with customers. The IT department then needs to deliver this vision by implementing and integrating technology-driven capabilities.

With the technology landscape changing at an ever-increasing rate, CTOs must put the right processes in place. CTOs need to ensure that the whole organization adopts an agile mindset and works to experiment and innovate ways to keep delighting the customer. Removing any traditional silos in an organization and advocating for company-wide collaboration is key to achieving this.

Related Article: Where Does Customer Experience End and Digital Marketing Begin?

Takeaways

Above all, as customer demands evolve, so too should customer-facing brands. Technology leaders should look to create a strong customer-focused vision and communicate it clearly to everyone within the organization.

With the right mindset and dedication to continuous improvement, your teams can develop software that delivers memorable customer experiences and creates long-term brand loyalty for the organization.