“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into creating a simplistic user experience that delivers on what the user wants and needs,” said Swaroop Sham, “and it is hard work that makes the difference.”

Sham is group product marketing manager for consumer identity at Okta. His areas of product expertise include authentication, adaptive and multifactor authentication as well as app and API development. 

Okta is a sponsor of CMSWire's Digital Experience Summit Fall Event, taking place online on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29. Sham will lead a session titled, “Build Trusted Digital Experiences with Modern Customer Identity.” We spoke with Sham to learn about the expertise that goes into creating simplicity and delight in the user experience.

Creating Simple Customer Experiences Is Deceptively Challenging

CMSWire: Describe the path that led you to where you are now. When did you know you wanted to work in this field? Was there a pivotal moment that led you here?

Swaroop Sham: I could say that I ended up in this career by chance but I love every moment of it. My background is in engineering and I spent a lot of years thinking through hard problems. The harder the problem, the more interesting it was to me. A learning was that the way a product gets used is more important than how the problem is solved or how the product is built. That realization led me to where I am now in the product marketing organization, focused on the customer experience and delighting the customer. 

When I first took on the management space, I didn’t realize how much of this touched identity. I now appreciate the value of identity and how it impacts customer experience. A lot of businesses use Spotify, and if you think about how you access it and use it — perhaps logging in through your FB account — and how you find your results, a lot of it is driven by identity. That experience is very powerful in how customers use and engage with your product.

CMSWire: Creating simplicity in the customer experience (or in anything else) requires a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Can you tell us about the corporate skillset of creating simplicity in the DEX? What strategies work and what don’t?

Sham: I’ve found over the years that a deep understanding of the customer results in a simplistic experience. This simplicity is confused by a lot of users for lack of completeness, but it’s actually a lot harder to create. It begins with having a good understanding of your customer: where they live, how they engage (digital first? If so, mobile or desktop?), and what they want. 

The second thing is, you really need to understand and embrace the medium. If your average user is a millennial, your service needs to build for and accommodate their anticipated experience in the medium they are using. 

Third, you must provide a trusted but verifiable experience for your customer. This is critical, because customers really appreciate a high fidelity, high accuracy security that has little friction.

These are the three areas you must work really hard at to create that simplistic and delightful experience for the customer.

Swaroop Sham: " “Simplicity is confused by a lot of users for lack of completeness, but it’s actually a lot harder to create. It begins with having a good understanding of your customer.”

Tips to Create a Unified Customer View

CMSWire: What are some roadblocks to creating a unified customer view? How might organizations address those challenges?

Sham: Creating a unified customer experience is part of everyone’s agenda but we see very few that are successful due to some fairly common roadblocks. Independent data (or data silos) and lack of quality are the top two things I run into on a regular basis. 

In order to get a unified view of the customer, data is a key element. Most orgs have vast troves of data, but it is siloed. Security/login info, preferences based on activity, payment data, and support history are four examples of data that tend to exist independently. Without a single, holistic view, there is an impediment to creating a unified view of the customer.

The second is the quality of data. Like the common phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out,” quite often companies collect a lot of data without a focus on quality, and that lack of quality is an impediment to creating a unified view. For example, how can you send an email to a customer if you haven’t confirmed their email address? How can you send a quick alert about package tracking if you don’t have a validated phone number? 

Learning Opportunities

To address the impediments, let’s start off with the quality of data problem. We can solve this problem from a number of different ways, including from a technology perspective. There are products that can validate and cleanse your data. There are good operational practices you can apply, such as sending a verification code when customers apply for an account. When you do that up front when you collect the data, it helps you curate it for quality.

For creating a single, holistic view, a strategy I’ve seen of late focuses on creating an enterprise databus to break down those data silos. For example, when a customer calls support to check on the package shipping status, that should clue you in to the customer having trouble logging in to the app. 

Having good data gives insight about the customer experience, so prevent bad data from filling up your systems and focus on getting quality up front, and then you’ll have a better chance of seeing a unified view of the customer.

The Relationship Between Security and Trust

CMSWire: Many organizations have security initiatives as a top priority. What lessons have you learned in approaching security successfully?

Sham: Security is a very hot topic these days. I’ve found that it’s closely related to the trustability of the service, and customers are placing an increasing emphasis on trustability. When organizations get trust right, we see some trends.

The first is, having friction only when you need it. We’ve seen abandonment due to security features is a battle for companies and they actively program against it.

The second step is offering a very simple, but very secure experience for user validation. Think of it as a combination of user validation and verifying the user attributes. When a user goes into a service, the standard is to enter a username and password. That’s an easy, low friction, well understood experience. But there is a frictionless experience that can happen at the same time: tracking where the user is logging in, what time, and from what device. All of these data points validate the experience without causing friction.

A third thing is adopting approaches that really focus on delighting the customer without compromising on security, such as facial scanning on mobile devices.

My recommendation is: think about friction when you absolutely need it. Validate the user with their login credentials as well as the where/when attribute, and adopt a cutting edge solution like password-less authentication.

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