CIOs heed the call for customer-centric IT

Customer experience (CX) has always been vital for the success of any business — and the pandemic has only reinforced its importance. Research from global management consulting company McKinsey shows that organizations enhancing CX can boost sales by up to 7% and profitability by 1% to 2%, while improving overall shareholder returns by 7% to 10%.

And with the horizon for the global economy remaining uncertain, CX is increasingly being viewed as a key strategic differentiator as enterprises face increased pressure to keep top lines growing against economic headwinds, according to Nikhil Sethi, partner at KPMG India.

“Post COVID-19, the demand for premium products and services is high while the number of buyers is small. With volumes slipping for value brands, they need to fight for share again. Customer experience — at both the consumer and customer level — is a significant differentiator to pull share,” Sethi says.

With a positive CX linked directly to revenue growth, brand advocacy, and customer retention and loyalty, it’s only logical that enterprises are striving to take their CX strategies to the next level. Elevating CX, however, involves all the key facets of a business — its people, processes, and technology. Few executives are situated as well as the CIO to have a widespread impact.

Here’s how IT leaders in the APAC region are leveraging these three pillars to build a robust customer experience strategy for their enterprises.

Aligning on a customer-focused culture

While customer experience initiatives are ultimately outward-facing by nature, to succeed, any CX strategy must first start from within. Making the shift to a customer-centric culture, in which employees buy in to supporting the overall CX vision and strategy, is essential to enhancing the experience of an organization’s customers.

“CX is here to stay. The biggest differentiator will be if the organization culture is ready to accept it and deliver on it,” says Sethi, who adds that business-IT alignment is another key factor in ensuring CX success.

“The first alignment IT leaders need to have is with business on the experience the organization agrees to deliver, and then leverage existing investments — or make new ones — to orchestrate that,” he says.

Jimmy Lee, CIO of Perth, Australia-based Cedar Woods Properties, agrees that technology leaders must work to bridge the gap between the IT department and other strategic business units that focus on CX.

“CIOs need to engage with the business, particularly marketing, sales, and operations to make sure that the business is supported, aware of the latest technologies and have the expertise to help execute the technology,” he says. “CIOs also need to influence the executive team and board of directors to make sure that they can see the value of CX.”

For Yogesh Pasrija, group manager of IT at Toyota Material Handling India, convincing the top management on CX is the easier part. “Our company has a customer-first approach, and this value is shared by everyone across the organization. This makes it easier for us to take up CX with the leadership.”

Where he goes the extra mile is in upskilling employees. “Our internal employees are also a subset of customers, and we need to ensure they are satisfied. Regular certification courses for our service engineers enable them to pinpoint any issue at the customer’s end in the first visit, which goes a long way in improving customer satisfaction and confidence. We have regular training sessions for our customers’ engineers also to mitigate issues at their ends,” he says.

Collaborating with other lines of business, Lee consistently reviews the company’s sales practices and systems to align with the broader customer journey and streamline the marketing to sales conversion process. “We also deepen the integration between our CRM and marketing systems to ensure that sales and marketing are aligned on the customer lifecycle stage,” he says.

Tuning processes and tech for improved CX

The delivery of CX is increasingly supported by digital workflows, be it applications or enterprise systems. Re-alignment of tech workflows to CX delivery is key, which is often difficult on legacy systems. IT leaders, therefore, must re-work existing processes to enable delivery of the right experience to the right person at the right time.

“Being a Japanese company, we believe in the philosophy of Kaizen or continuous improvement. We are, therefore, continuously improving existing processes and workflows so that they deliver better customer experience,” says Pasrija, who recently upgraded the organization’s knowledge management system with valuable content around the company policies, products, and processes that can now be accessed by employees from any location. He has also recently developed a mobile app that provides companywide visibility into inventory levels on employees’ handheld devices.

One of the bedrocks of improving CX in the digital world is customer journey mapping. Knowing what customers feel and experience at various stages of the sales cycle can inform a company how to design its online and in-person processes and systems to lead to better customer outcomes. Cutting-edge technology plays a vital role in achieving this.

“Collecting data on current customers ensures we know our demographics. Understanding at a detailed level how, and how often, customers interact with our digital assets helps us to focus cost and effort to the right areas,” says Lee, who leverages marketing automation tools to learn about customer interactions with his company’s systems and digital marketing material for customizing the marketing to the lifecycle stage.

“Use of real-time integration between our real estate inventory system and our project websites shows customers what is currently selling in projects,” he says.

Lee has redesigned all project websites so there is one CX strategy for all projects, meaning that customers do not have different and confusing experiences when browsing across projects. “We have tried to move to omnichannel experiences by creating a solid digital platform that is always present but, in our industry, supplemented by a physical presence, which is always going to be required,” he says.

To ensure hyperpersonalization, Rajat Bansal, CTO of India-based digital skill games company Games24x7, is leveraging state-of-the-art IT.

“Games24x7 has a highly scalable gaming infrastructure that serves more than 100 million registered users across platforms. We believe that the most important thing is to understand the users as early as possible in their gaming lifecycle. The personalization journey begins from the moment a user enters the game. When players are served offers based on their profiles and preferences, our data science models help us identify their inclinations and preferences,” he says.

“We leverage AI, ML, data science, and analytics to offer a hyperpersonalized, immersive, and entertaining gameplay experience to our users at every stage of their gaming journey by building the right models to analyse user behaviour, customize gameplay, and provide an intuitive and safe experience,” Bansal says.

That safety is also essential, Lee adds, when it comes using customers’ data to better serve them.

“CIOs need to make sure that the business understands the governance around data, which is the oil for CX, and how to manage it, so that the company remains safe and secure, whilst giving the business the framework to operate in order to meet the mission,” he says.

With that proper governance foundation in place, companies will be securely positioned to leverage the kinds of technologies that can take an organization’s CX to the next level, including “generative AI tools to converse with customers, API-led integration tools to streamline the flow of information, and leading-edge data and analytics to make information timely and accurate,” says Lee.

Digital Transformation, Employee Experience