Digital 2030: user controlled contextualisation?

Contextualisation – the art of successfully blending positioning, relationship and emotional data together to deliver a unique, personalised user experience across all channels – is expected to be a key differentiator for many companies in 2015. But what might contextualisation be like for users in 2030?

In 2030 I don’t have a smartphone – miniaturisation means all information I need (and control) is transmitted straight into my digital contact lenses (the ultimate wearable?) and micro headphones implanted in my ears.  My own personal drone provides me digital connections around the world including a secure continuous link to my cloud AI – my guide, advisor and friend throughout any customer journey.

In 2030 I shape my physical environment using augmented AND virtual reality together – if I want to make a call I use my virtual phone; likewise I can project any content I want on to any surface and share it with friends and other people in any size or resolution. The physical and data worlds are combined and I am completely in control using my cloud AI to make my life as simple as possible and protect me from real or cyber threats.

In 2030 I use contextualisation to add layers on to my customer experience – when I go shopping my cloud AI has already scanned all relevant data sources (including my own mood and friends’ social feeds) to tell me what’s hot or not in my specific location. I can also heat-map previous visits on to the physical space to see what has interested me and my friends before. If the shop doesn’t have what I want I can create a virtual prototype of the product right in front of the retail staff (with help from my AI) to help them visualise and fulfil my needs.  And of course, I don’t take any goods home with me: paid-for digital assets are stored on my cloud AI and created at home instantly on my own 3D printer.

My entire customer experience is powered by location, transactional and social data that I apply in ANY space to create my personalised, unique experience – ‘user controlled contextualisation’.

So what could this digital dream mean for business?

Marketing serves (rather than influences) individual users – to be successful, marketing differentiates itself in terms of the services it can provide users to enable them to tell their own contextualised data powered stories

Retail Spaces could be located anywhere (physical or virtual) – staff will be fully mobilised to move to areas of high user demand as required or could be outsourced anywhere in the world

A complete re-focusing of the supply chain – suppliers will have to radically re-organise their value chain and operating model to enable individuals to manufacture their products on personal demand

Software as a service is king – products and services are developed, marketed and sold primarily as soft digital assets all driven by software/SOA that can adapt instantly to any platform of the individual user’s choosing

Telecommunications become cyber security service providers  – because individuals are managing their own personal data communications across networks they are at constant risk of direct attack. Consequently, telco companies are continually, and fiercely, innovating their security capabilities (including drone services) to protect users

Pure fantasy? Let me know what you think…

What’s the difference between Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX)?

Let’s first define the two…

Customer Experience

The experience the customer will have across all touch points (online and offline), covering the relationship between the customer and the brand, from sales to operations, phone call to online interaction.

User Experience

UX focuses on the touch points with a digital interface, each a subset of the brand. UX encompasses how the digital experience makes a user feel and how usable that experience is throughout the entire process, before during and after.

Collaboration of UX and CX

Depending on what the customer or business requires, the work of the CX and UX person will overlap. In order to achieve a seamless experience the UX designer must first understand how the user will interact with the various touch points by gathering research, design and development material and aligning it to the customer journey map.

The result

Collaborating together on the customer journey we can create experiences that enable contextually aware data to be gathered, understand the goal of the customer, what the user wants to achieve and ensure they enjoy a seamless experience from start to finish, whether they are online or offline.

So what do we call this holistic experience? Service design.

Why digital transformation? My current three key questions – what are yours?

i) What things CAN’T your customers or employees do on their own mobiles to use or serve your products and services?

ii) Do you have one application that gives your employees all the RIGHT information about the relationship you have with a specific customer or client?

iii) Is there is one area of your business (no matter how small or large) that if improved to WORK SMARTER could deliver big benefits quickly for customers and/or employees?

Answering one or more of these questions can help a client find the critical pain points that could be addressed using new ways of working supported by digital technology – the power of digital transformation!

Let me know your top three…

How can digital lead to strategic stagnation? And how to avoid it

Responding proactively in an instant to an individual user is arguably at the heart of the digital experience.

But as a result are companies being increasingly tactical in their outlook?

I use different digital banking services from two major high street banks yet their digital channels practically look and feel the same – the difference is the product not the channel.

The other day I was comparing prices for a product across different on-line retailers; if it wasn’t for their different logos the experience was pretty much uniform across all of them. Even the big data(?) driving my personalised experience felt repetitive – probably because they were all using the same personal and social information to engage me.

I expect government information to be available digitally and all in one place – an intuitive experience like on-line retail. As a user I don’t necessarily care about how that information is produced as long as it’s accurate and doesn’t require me to go anywhere else.

To succeed, companies and organisations need to respond quicker, faster and smarter to my needs – a tactical, not a strategic response. And that’s just for one user; is there a risk that chasing competitive advantage by meeting the tactical needs of thousands or millions of users could result in a company not having sufficient resources to adapt strategically when further market disruptions occur? Or alternatively end up being dependant on technology change to innovate, differentiating the user experience rather than the company’s own products and services?

What ways can companies and organisations enjoy the benefits of digital transformation while keeping the right tactical AND strategic focus for their business?

  1. The old rules still apply: competitive advantage still comes from increasing differentiation and managing cost – give your customers what they want short- and long-term using digital only where it adds value (not the other way round)
  2. Digital is immature; it needs your guidance: use the same measures and indicators for offline vs digital channels and regularly compare their relative performance to each other (and competitors). This should indicate if your digital strategy implementation is moving in the right long term direction rather than delivering only short term tactical benefits
  3. Live and breathe Agile – even strategically; it’s not easy to move from Waterfall but the benefits of being responsive, open about failing fast enables genuine learning that creates innovation that delivers sustainable tangible business benefits

Let me know what you think…

Championing the cause for small data

There has been much said and discussed about Big Data; combined with advanced analytics it is indeed a powerful set of techniques and does allow an incredible insight into customer behaviour and needs with the ability to gain control of previously impenetrable piles of information.

I would, however, like to champion a new cause: Small Data. The fundamental problem with Big Data as an applied science is that it is designed first and foremost to benefit the business that is selling or serving the customer. Loyalty cards may have direct consumer benefits, but the insights and power that is gained by the retailer is disproportionate. It’s why many consumers are turning away from yet another card (or app) to carry with them, to manage their points and to feel frustrated when the offer has just expired or the card is left at home. Likewise insights into seasonal, geographical or product based segmentation patterns can be of great use to a business, but why does a customer care? Indirectly the consumer may benefit from this as store patterns evolve, new products are introduced and contact centre handling times may change, but being counted as an aggregated statistic does not bring good customer experience as a direct consequence.

The data that interest customers is their data, their “world” – small data that is focused around their needs and wants:

  • It’s data that differentiates them
  • It’s data that makes it personal, but not too personal, depending on individual perceptions
  • It’s data that helps drive a good customer experience at the moments of truth

If businesses and organisations can see the whole experience from the customers’ perspective and experiences, then the collective whole – the big data picture – would be a summation of great customer experiences that would truly provide insight. It would make the customer feel that they were not just contributing to a gigantic data machine to increase the bottom line of a company, but give them recognition that each small sale and each good customer service interaction builds the experience that big data can then record as a true revolution in how to use data with the customer at the centre.

Are you relating to your customer at all levels?

Much is said about being customer centric. Measurements are made, customer feedback is analysed against benchmarks and marketing teams create content about how much we care about customers. But how does the corporate vision of an organisation really connect, or more often fail to connect, with the beliefs and values of customers? This is not an accident: it is caused by a mismatch in the layers underpinning these lofty ambitions – but there is a way of making an analysis of this and a real improvement at all levels.

Most organisations of any significant size have invested in defining their vision or mission statement. Usually, they can be boiled down to variations along the theme of “We will do our best for our customers, shareholders and employees by exceeding expectations, by innovation, by being better than the competition…” – you can fill in the rest. It is usually predictably organisation-centric. Away from the boardroom and the executive vision planning meetings, the reality of dealing with the organisation from the customer perspective can seem far removed from this.

The reason is that an organisation is usually governed by cost management, operating models and process maps, locking out flexibility and sometimes making the vision statement seem like an ironic joke to employees saddled with processes and tools that do not suit the customer and cause frustration.

The entity that is the customer, however, is driven by emotions, feelings and a set of expectations that may easily be missed. To a customer, there are no explicit processes or operating models, although this does exist at a subconscious level. This does not mean, however, that the two can never interact without conflict and misunderstanding. Because there are two hierarchies. both have similar levels and by understanding how the customer perceives the organisation on each level the likelihood of improving engagement and customer satisfaction are much improved – as illustrated below.

The Customer Engagement Framework

1. Vision vs Beliefs and Values: the Strategic layer

In both cases, the top level of the framework describes the highest attributes and ambitions of the organisation or customer. With the organisation, this must be made both explicit and public it is ultimately a collection of individuals with naturally differing views on direction that can and do change. The customer as an individual holds internal beliefs and values that are deep-rooted and very hard to change. It is at this level that customers choose not to engage with firms that go against these values – for example those that focus on “controversial” products such as tobacco or alcohol, openly support political views the customer disagrees with, or companies that are perceived not to operate ethically. No matter how good the customer service, they will never interact with this organisation in principle.

On the other hand, firms that are seen as visionary for example, the consumer technology leader Apple, iconic fashion firms or those with significant charitable goals can attract and retain customers even when day to day customer service fails badly – they will be forgiven by the higher principle of aligning in values and aspirations. It is a rare thing to base relationships only on this, the lower levels almost always play a part in the final decision-making process, hence the most successful brands connect not only here but execution is also near-perfect. Most firms do not make a significant connection on this top level alone but, much as an iceberg is mainly below water and invisible, as long as the vision is not an issue it will not inhibit success.

2. Principles vs Emotions and Identity: the Brand layer

Here, the two are closely related. Principles are the manifestation of a Vision – the next layer that starts to define “how we make vision reality” rather than “what are we going (or not going) to do”. On the customer or individual side this is a close match to the Emotions (how I feel and react to my Beliefs and Values) and Identity (what makes me feel attracted to, or repulsed from, what I am experiencing with reference to my Beliefs and Values).

Why are they so closely related on this level? Because this is the bridge between concept and reality, on both the company and individual customer sides. In many ways it is the most critical area to get right. It is above the details of exactly what is productised, marketed, sold and serviced but below the more conceptual layer of a vision. Likewise on the customer side, it is the bridge between the “gut feel” of beliefs and values that are often hard to articulate and the more easily identified objectives and concrete expectations around customer service. While it is intuitively easy to like or not like a company based on the ethos presented – or perceived – and it is also fairly straightforward to evaluate how your expectations are being met or missed, the Emotions and Identity layer is really what underpins measures such as Net Promoter Score (other established measures e.g. Customer Effort Score is at the next layer down). It is partly derived from hard-to-express feelings and partly from real examples of good or bad service.

How do you decide to recommend or not recommend a company to a friend? It is both feelings based and also on the reality of contact. That is how humans make decisions – although the precise mix of the above and below layers will vary by person – think of the well-known Myers-Briggs measures and how people react differently to others in a similar situation.

3. Propositions vs Objectives and Expectations: the Define layer

The importance of aligning at this level cannot be underestimated. Propositions that are designed to serve the needs of internal functional silos will ultimately fail as the objectives of a customer never include an allowance for, for example, the finance platform not to interface seamlessly with customer helpdesk and therefore a refunds process takes three days longer than expected. Expectations are set not only by past experience, although this is important, but by direct and current comparisons with competitors. It can be pictured as many “pyramids” (organisations – the left hand side of our illustration) interacting with many more “tower blocks” (customers – the right hand side of our illustration) – a hugely complex set of interactions that ultimately drives an economy.

It should also be said that Propositions are not the exclusive domain of marketing – it is so fundamental to a business (as are all lower parts of a pyramid to keep it standing!) that they must be defined, designed and most importantly constantly tested by all functions to ensure that customer expectations are met and satisfied.

4. Operations and Delivery vs Engagement and Understanding: the Engage layer

The bottom layer, like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, has a focus on the basics. Operations and Delivery is the core of the company – the engine room – and also the point of real contact with customers at every stage in the customer journey. On the customer side this is represented by the Engagement and Understanding layer, a level that relates to how a customer really interacts with the products or services provided. How does the product look and feel – is it a quality article? How was the interaction with the contact centre – did you find it easy to navigate and get what you wanted easily and quickly?

Slightly less tangible but still not based on any higher levels of the tower – how well did a customer feel engaged with the company? This can be influenced by brand – for example, O2. By them investing in the O2 Arena, customers may associate some great event experiences with the brand that lead indirectly to a more positive engagement. However despite positive feelings, if the engagement fails at a practical level: a hard to navigate website, perhaps, or a marketing message that completely fails to relate to the consumption experience, then there will be a mis-match between the various layers of the customer experience tower. It is comparable to Maslow’s bottom layers of physiological and safety needs – unless you have this right the higher layers meeting aspirational ideals are really irrelevant and you will lose the customer sooner or later.

In summary

This opinion piece shows how the component layers of an organisation’s DNA, from the high level vision to the handling of a minor customer problem, can have a direct match with how a customer relates at all levels. To succeed, an organisation should:

  • Connect the layers: make sure that your vision is being delivered in reality at the lowest levels as well as the top – or perhaps it is simpler to say make sure that every customer interaction, no matter how small, reflects your vision ideals. If this isn’t done, the vision isn’t credible
  • Compare and align frequently to the customer’s equivalent layers as far as possible: make sure that your principles relate to your customers’ emotions and your propositions match their expectations
  • Optimise each level across the organisation, and also against your competition: pan-organisational harmony is critical – there is no point in having a highly empathetic customer services team that relates to the customer’s emotions if the rest of the organisation fails in delivering promises made

In future opinion pieces, we will look in detail at each layer and show how customer centricity is more than a focus on getting process, people and technology customer focused internally – important as these are. It must fundamentally align the organisation at all levels to connect, collect and retain customers in a highly competitive world. This is not simply management levels, we mean here the complete hierarchy of high level values to low level operations.

Only by knowing the layers that shape and drive your organisation, and by being aware of the full conscious and unconscious things that drive customers can we make a significant difference in customer experience improvement.

The integrated customer view

Making customers happy needn’t require a major overhaul or “big bang” budget.

In response to consumer expectations reaching an all-time high, most companies have improved their customer-facing operations. With just a few clicks, customers can quickly find a provider’s best price, determine product availability, and connect with a service representative – virtually or in real time. Completing the order? There are email, call centre and mobile app options; payment plans from credit to debit to PayPal; and delivery choices galore, often at no cost.

The wired planet has put today’s consumers in the driver’s seat. So why are so many customers still frustrated and unhappy? Certainly it’s not because businesses haven’t made many of the right investments. Mindful that the cost of replacing a customer is estimated to be five times as high as the cost of retaining one, enterprises have implemented a range of customer-centric improvements, from staff training to simplified work processes to social media engagement. Yet most of these improvements ignore a major flaw – the lack of an integrated customer view.

Consider banking customers. A customer with a current account at a particular bank will logically consider applying for a mortgage, a credit card or a car loan from the same bank. As an existing customer, he’ll assume his basic account information will be available to the customer service representative handling the new transaction. Well, usually not.

The problem is that banks rarely have a complete and common view of their customers available to each of their consumer channels. In order to apply for a new product or service, an existing customer has to go through the process of once again providing the same information the bank already has on file.

That’s because the majority of customer interactions in banking are siloed – closely aligned with individual channels instead of with the business as a whole. Every time a customer deals with his bank through a different channel, the experience varies so greatly he might as well be talking to completely different companies.

But banking isn’t the only industry with this issue. Insurance, telecommunications, utilities, and retailing all face the same challenges. Many organisations in these sectors have grown through mergers and acquisitions, expanding their IT structure in scale and complexity and further constraining the ability to deliver a “whole” picture of their customers.

Businesses understand their customers want to use multiple channels to communicate with them, and they know their customers expect all of their account information to be readily available across those channels. In short, they expect businesses to have an integrated customer view. So why aren’t more businesses moving toward that goal?

One customer, divided

There are two ways that companies continue to bifurcate customer information. One is based on technology. Organisations usually have groupwide databases that contain all of that precious customer data. Yet, their various channels and product processing systems also maintain separate local data systems specific to each product or service relationship held with each customer.

In addition to the technology constraints, many organisations divide themselves along business lines that seem to deliberately discourage the notion of a single customer view. In a bank, this might be vertical lines, like insurance, deposits, and commercial lending. This is complicated further by multiple outlets, such as branch networks, telephony operations, and Internet channels – all with their own internal fiefdoms and competition.

Couple this with the fact that in many organisations, it is difficult to find anyone at a senior level who “owns” the customer experience and can drive the business change that’s needed to enable the company to “join up” around the customer.

This divide-and-conquer approach eliminates any kind of competitive advantage in customer service and customer retention. Not only does the company bear the expense of customer churn, but it misses the opportunity to deliver new sales leads based on complete knowledge of the customer. It just makes financial sense to have an integrated view of the customer across all channels, coupled with the ability to access and exploit the data the firm holds. The challenge, as always, is delivering.

The integrated customer view

Notice that the term I use here is “integrated customer view” rather than “single customer view.” There’s a big difference. The latter means putting all of your customer data into a single database – but that doesn’t even begin to solve the problem. Instead, the goal is more subtle, more accepting of technical constraints, and focuses on operations – making data, intelligence, and process activation available to all customer touch points when and as needed.

In essence, the term “single customer view” implies a technical solution to a poorly articulated business problem. In contrast, an “integrated customer view” is a business-led capability delivered through process and technology change.

The good news is that achieving an integrated customer view doesn’t require a “big bang” expenditure and major systems overhaul. Delivering an integrated customer view can be achieved progressively through a common service layer solution – one that enables your organisation to map customer data from various databases into a common view that can be made available to the people, processes, and systems that deliver your customer experience.

Taking progressive steps lessens the need to re-engineer the systems that deliver your service processes and the core data storage that you rely on to manage day-to-day operations. And the implementation of technologies, such as an enterprise service bus, or cloud overlay, which enables communication and interaction between applications, means that much of the data from your different internal organisations can remain intact, rather than your having to take an extensive “design and build from scratch” approach.

Given that the idea is to have a company-wide integrated view of the customer, it might seem contradictory to say it can be achieved in progressive steps. Yes, it’s true that not all of the capabilities are likely to be delivered to all touch points at the same time, and that business prioritisation will be needed. However, such a strategy is preferable to the “big bang” approach, which would almost certainly create adoption problems that could doom your plan to failure.

There are five key requirements to a common service layer solution for an integrated customer view:

  1. It must be flexible and scalable. The ability to support rapid business process change will ensure that adding intelligence to existing processes won’t compromise speed and efficiency
  2. It must be standards-based to facilitate integration with the applications it exploits and those that consume its services
  3. It must be process oriented. It requires the ability to support process automation, including the configurability of business processes, workforce management, and work distribution
  4. It must permit progressive implementation for incremental realisation of benefits without putting the implementation program at risk
  5. It must be secure and use standards-based encryption

The first steps you take in designing your solution will depend on your individual business and where you are in your CRM life cycles. But most companies will benefit from taking the following initial actions:

  • Initiate a customer experience and capability analysis. Uncover the key drivers of your customer experience. They may not be just the obvious ones. Look at what capabilities differentiate you from the competition
  • Define the target optimum customer experience. Look not only at benchmarks in your industry but also your target operating model for how you will put your customer at the centre of all you do
  • Identify the key capabilities required to improve and achieve the optimum customer experience. Put pragmatic action-oriented plans in place to design the experience and balance this between people, process, and technology changes to improve capabilities

What else is required? It’s important to note that designing an integrated customer view requires a commitment from the top of the company – including identification of someone who “owns” the customer experience and can drive change. Additionally, older and complex legacy systems must be taken into account, since they may be difficult to assimilate with new technologies and processes, although choosing the right project scope for the initial implementation can ease some of these challenges.

For example, the use of a common services layer solution to achieve an integrated customer view has been put into practice by a global hardware manufacturer that is moving toward a services-based approach. The product portfolio was complicated, and the solution helped link previously separate customer bases. It was essential to get an overall view of the impact of the service introduction, and this was achieved in a reasonably short time by integrating only the essential elements of data needed to identify the customer overall. Taking this incremental approach avoided the need for a complete legacy systems integration and saved a considerable amount of money. Because of these initial steps, the hardware manufacturer has increased customer satisfaction without a major technology overhaul.

As a final note, remember that your focus is on business change, not simply technology change. Your eye must be on the customer, who just wants to deal with your organisation through any available channel at any given time and not have to repeatedly provide information already on file, whether it’s personal information or the state of a sales transaction.

Seeing your business through the experience of the customer and creating an integrated customer view can turn a rigidly siloed organization that’s a turn-off to frustrated customers into one that feels to its customers like it is truly joined up, understands their needs and aspirations, and may even have them giving great reviews and recommendations to others.