Why EA should take the lead on improving customer experience

The business shift to digital goods and services gives IT a critical role in improving the customer experience. Here's why CIOs are assigning enterprise architecture the job.

Traditionally, IT teams focused their efforts on serving employees within their own firm. As companies increasingly invest in digital products and services, however, corporate IT teams find themselves interacting with a much broader range of stakeholders.

Business leaders, in particular, now depend heavily on corporate IT to effectively engage external customers. According to CEB, now Gartner, 85% of business leaders say that simplifying the customer experience will be critical to success in their market by 2020. Customers want to have an effortless experience when interacting with organizations. In order to achieve this low-effort customer experience, business leaders and their teams should look to develop a customer-centric design for their products, channels and operations. Within each of these three areas, corporate IT should put the customer at the forefront.

While IT is critical to improving customer experience, it isn't necessary or beneficial for IT teams to get involved with all aspects of it -- even within those companies where there is no specific team dedicated to improving customer experience. Moreover, it likely won't help business leaders to have too many IT teams interacting with them on solving customer experience issues.

The case for enterprise architecture

In a number of organizations, EA teams have been asked by the CIO to take the lead on some key activities to ensure that technology systems support a low-effort, high-quality customer experience.

In a number of organizations, enterprise architecture (EA) teams have been asked by the CIO to take the lead on some key activities to ensure that technology systems support a low-effort, high-quality customer experience. EA teams have a number of attributes that make them well-positioned to get involved in improving customer experience.

  • EA uniquely understands enterprise systems, processes and data, which means it understands the full stack of foundations that support customer experience.
  • Similarly, EA's cross-enterprise perspective allows it to provide insight across business units and technology silos. This is critical for improving customer experience issues, which are frequently impacted by many different business teams and technologies.
  • EA's holistic mindset helps align business strategy with IT strategy.
  • EA teams tend to look at problems across multiple time horizons, positioning themselves to consider both immediate needs and long-term implications of solutions.

EA roadmap for improving customer experience: Three steps

With these capabilities, there are several ways EA teams can identify opportunities for improving the customer experience.

1. Use EA teams to look for poor handoffs between business silos. Customer experience pain points occur frequently at the handoffs between different teams or technologies that support a product or service. While business leaders may struggle to root-cause the specific reasons behind a pain point, EA teams have a unique point of view. As the traditional owners of enterprise technology roadmaps, business capability maps and views of the present state architecture, EA has a wide variety of tools that allow it to spot gaps across technology, organizational and process silos.

2. Map out the customer journey. Customer-centric design should begin with mapping out each step of the current customer experience. To do this, more IT organizations have adopted customer journey maps to help visualize what customers really do as they interact with the company's products and services. This allows corporate IT to connect steps of the customer journey to the teams, processes, data and technologies that support each step. Combining a customer journey map with the business capability maps created by many EA teams allows corporate IT to easily root-cause pain points in the customer experience. When done correctly, business capability maps do most of the hard work in connecting business processes to data and systems, making diagnosis of the break points in the customer journey much easier than it would be otherwise. As a bonus, prioritizing IT investments based on business capabilities that poorly support parts of the customer journey is an excellent approach to setting up productive IT investment conversations.

3. Use customer personas to connect IT functions with customer experience. Corporate IT teams don't always have frequent opportunities to interact directly with external customers. To remedy the negative consequences caused by being a few steps removed from the customer, leading IT teams work with their marketing partners to create representative customer personas; these are detailed sketches of archetypical customers that can be easily referenced to understand what different types of customers are really trying to accomplish with the company's products and services. These organizations embed discussions about their customer personas into project reviews and other steps of the development process. When written in the customer's voice, these personas demonstrate how development decisions made within IT will impact the customer experience. Ideally, these customer persona discussions should be implemented in key moments of existing workflows -- architecture reviews, project stage gates, etc. Like the customer journey maps, customer personas articulate pain points in the customer experience and help teams think through remedies for improving customer experience.

For most companies, a growing proportion of products and services depend on technology. Along with the growth in digital products and services, corporate IT teams will need to incorporate techniques that help them contribute to solving tough customer experience problems and that put the customer at the center of their approach to design. EA has an important role to play in that.

Matt Charlet is a Practice Leader at CEB, now Gartner, a best practice insight and technology company. Since joining the company in 2004, he has helped IT members by leading research teams to deliver insights on topics including R&D processes, IT portfolio prioritization and enterprise architecture. He is currently based in Washington, D.C.

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