This content is part of the Essential Guide: Multipronged digital customer experience strategy enriches CX

Improving customer experience strategy with digital tweaks vs. transformation

Improving the customer experience with digital technologies doesn't have to entail full-blown transformation. Here are three organizations that make the case.

Aligning your organization's customer experience strategy with the digital practices of customers doesn't necessarily require wholesale changes. More often than not, improving the customer experience starts from within and requires only incremental steps.

Consider how AvePoint Inc., a software manufacturer in New Jersey, recently unveiled a customer-facing portal that's jam-packed with information that previously only employees could access. Realizing it was sitting on product information and other useful tech tidbits, the company now invites customers to dig into this information themselves, so they don't have to spend time contacting a service representative.

TransPerfect Global Inc., a translation and IT services company based in New York, also believes transparency is a path to improving its customer experience strategy. In 2019, it will give its customers the data behind every document or digital page that has been translated, right down to the sentence, if they wish. The data will allow customers to view how TransPerfect does its work and request changes, such as a new translator, on future projects.

Of course, these examples don't suggest that all customer experience management (CEM) initiatives won't require the purchase of new technology. But as Gartner analyst Ed Thompson argued, pretty much any technology can be used to improve a customer experience strategy.

Ed ThompsonEd Thompson

"We have survey data telling us what the top 10 or so [CEM] technologies are, but to be honest, the list could be 100 technologies," Thompson said. "I once had a list of 650 different products that all purported to be improving the customer experience."

Fit CEM tools to customers' digital habits

Thompson's message and the advice of other analysts and several C-level executives is don't worry about the seemingly endless proliferation of CEM technologies touted to improve the customer experience. Instead, stick to a simple plan: Use only the technology that works best for you and your customer base. Sometimes, as seen with AvePoint and TransPerfect, it's simply a matter of using what you already have.

Denis PombriantDenis Pombriant

Organizations should "slow down and answer the question we assume has been answered, but in reality, is only answered about half of the time," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research Group. "The question is 'What's the plan?'"

Pombriant added, "'What do you want to do with your business? What do you want to improve and by how much?' Answering that will give direction and purpose to your digital strategy and keep you from lunging after the bright and shiny object."

Sharing data with customers

Mark HagertyMark Hagerty

TransPerfect translates any kind of content into any kind of digital or printed format, according to its CTO Mark Hagerty. The company also offers marketing, consulting and other types of services and is working to streamline its many product portals into one so that customers will see every service offering and hopefully use TransPerfect for more than one purpose, he said.

But Hagerty seemed more excited to talk about how data analytics is transforming the way TransPerfect relates to its customer base, particularly with its translation services. "Computers are good at translation, but not as good as people," he said. Still, the promise of artificial intelligence has nudged the company into using machine learning programs to help perform translations. Automated work is compared to human-produced work. Sometimes the machine translates better than a human, sometimes not.

Human translators aren't being shown the door, but TransPerfect has an obligation to try technologies to improve the company's customer experience strategy, enhance its customers' end products and let it enter new markets, he said. "We're a services company. Without our customers, we don't have a company," Hagerty said.

That's why TransPerfect will next year start sharing data on the efficiency of translation projects. Customers will see how well an individual editor translates languages. "We can take all of the data from every sentence that's translated to show how it's changed throughout the process," Hagerty said. "A customer can assess if this editor is 10 times more efficient than that one."

Sharing the metrics answers a "huge drive" in the industry to reduce project completion timelines, according to Haggerty. "If I was a customer using five different translator services, and I'm seeing a lot of mistakes that are subjective, I can drop that service," he said. "They can hold their vendors accountable. This data matters."

Improving customer experience strategy with SaaS

Cesar CobaCesar Coba

AvePoint makes compliance and governance software for companies in financial services, retail, health care and other verticals. As little as five years ago, AvePoint offered "traditional" products that had perpetual usage licenses and maintenance agreements, said Cesar Coba, the company's vice president of customer success.

"But as customers started transitioning to cloud solutions, we saw their behavior was changing. Customers wanted to be more self-reliant; that's why organizations are moving to the cloud. They want to be more efficient as a business and that's how they wanted to communicate with their vendors."

At a foundational level, AvePoint went where its customers were heading: It flipped from an on-premises product to a SaaS offering. Not only could AvePoint now deliver its service through a popular format, but it is also allows Coba and his colleagues to see in real time how customers use the product.

"In that transformation, we built into our system an ability to identify if there's a problem with a service level," Coba said. "Instead of hearing from them first, we're able to monitor the service level and address issues before the customer notices."

Certainly, countless other companies have improved product oversight by shifting to the cloud, but AvePoint used the opportunity to step back and review how it handled CEM as a whole.

"We unpacked the customer experience," Coba said. "We asked what things we would want to focus on to improve the customer experience. What are the points for that? One was knowledge management and how we deliver information to our customers."

That led to the realization that the case management files stored in the company's CRM platform should be made available to customers, through blog posts, FAQ sheets and videos. "They're rich with information and provide answers to the issues customers face," Coba said.

Customer habits drive customer experience management tools

John RagsdaleJohn Ragsdale

For the past two years, John Ragsdale, vice president of service technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association, has hosted workshops on improving customer self-service and overall service infrastructure -- all with an eye on having digital tools leading that transformation. He sees C-suite executives focusing on internal tools that are digital friendly for employees, but not the CEM tools that improve the customer experience. "I'm often helping justify the cost of upgrading [CEM] service systems and processes … because the CIO and CFO are pushing back," he wrote in an email.

"We continue to hear companies say, 'Our customers only want to call us. They don't want self-service. They don't want to use mobile devices [or] social.' That is because they are talking [only] to the VPs and CxOs (chief experience officers), and not the millennial sys admins who are doing all the work." Ragsdale, thus, urges service-driven organizations to keep customer transformation "visible and relevant, or it will be lost in the shuffle of internal transformation projects," he added.

Executives who are open to CEM digital transformation should first look in the mirror before rushing to implement technologies, Coba of AvePoint advised. When he joined AvePoint, Coba wanted to first understand the customer viewpoint through every step of the product lifecycle.

"I took time to understand their interactions, from the point when they hit our website for a trial, to the point of engaging a sales engineer, then trying software, doing a proof of concept, to doing work with us and, lastly, to using support," he said. "From a CEM standpoint, it's not enough to understand a customer at the tail end when they already made a purchase. You need to understand the full experience."

Machine learning, analytics and IoT are all worth considering, said Beagle Research's Pombriant, but only if they genuinely mesh with how an organization delivers a customer experience and align with what customers want.

"The goal should be to use technology to do some things that people do, tasks that are repetitive and boring," Pombriant said. "Machines will do this better. Focus on delivering on your bread and butter. Customers don't want to be delighted. They want their time [to be] respected, and they want what they want without a lot of trouble. Work on delivering that through technology."

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