Remember February 28, 2017? On that day, most of the internet broke, including Slack, Quora, GitHub, and Trello. An Amazon Web Services (AWS) engineer made a typo, which resulted in hours of downtime for apps and services hosted on AWS. This wasn’t the first time the internet broke, but it’s a recent example of how IT processes snowballed into a bad day for a lot of customers.
IT management is customer experience (CX) management. Your company’s customers may not use boss-style jargon, like “digital mesh” or “seamless multichannel experiences,” but they know when tech issues make it hard to work or shop online.
CX hasn’t changed, but people have
The customer experience isn’t a new concept. When ex-miner John Nordstrom used Alaskan gold rush earnings to start a high-end retail store in 1901, he realized, “I will only be criticized if I don’t take care of a customer.” About 117 years later, the founder of Nordstrom is still right.
What’s changed is consumer behavior. Customers don’t differentiate between your brand’s mobile apps, web apps, social media, or other digital channels. When customer experience management became a digital game, it became a lot easier to ruin a customer’s day with technology that didn’t work like it should.
Here’s what IT can do to deliver the best customer experiences:
1. Understand the blur between CX and IT
IT management is often insulated from customers, but tech decisions have a real impact on customer experiences. DataStax research found that customers expect your IT infrastructure to be:
- Engineered for anywhere, anytime availability
- Real-time intelligent
Takeaway #1: Delivering exceptional CX requires solid technology.
2. Fight for your infrastructure
Infrastructure is UX. Your app users won’t shed tears of joy because your clusters are so bursty, but they’ll notice if there’s downtime. The first order of business for IT is managing up and teaching leadership that infrastructure really does impact UX.
In a manifesto, UX pro Nathaniel Davis writes that you need to assert your own reference model. Instead of thinking of the user interface (UI) as the be-all and end-all of UX, you should put information architecture and security testing next to interaction design.
Takeaway #2: If your boss’s boss doesn’t understand that infrastructure matters to CX, someone’s got to teach them.
3. Find friction through customer exposure
Some of the great tech innovations of 2017, like smarter fashion AI and self-healing printers, were the product of design thinking or customer-focused thinking. No amazing customer experience came from a company doing the same thing over and over. Disruption happens when someone understands their customers better than anyone else. This sweet spot is when consumers’ needs are met in a way that makes them stand up and shout, “Take my money!”
Design thinking involves using different perspectives, which results in friction and radically different ideas. If there was ever a reason to fight for cross-functional teams, this is it. Combining your knowledge of tech management with customer success and sales knowledge of your customers spells empathy and understanding. When you know your customers, you can hack your way to IT management solutions that really serve people’s needs.
Takeaway #3: Customer-focused tech management doesn’t always occur from within the IT bubble. Build cross-functional teams and start hacking.
4. Transform—but not in ways that are easy
Analysts Ewan Duncan, Kevin Neher, and Sarah Tucker-Ray of McKinsey write that falling into the seven deadly sins of customer experience change is easy. Folks guilty of these sins may listen to squeaky wheels instead of seeing the big picture, focus on quick wins instead of the long-game roadmap, or feel too scared to take risks.
The next great digital innovation from your brand may not originate in the boardroom. It may involve new approaches to IT management you’re not used to or comfortable with—yet. However, transformation in customer experience management rarely follows the path of least resistance.
Takeaway #4: If you’re transforming the customer experience without major change, you’re probably doing it wrong.
5. Putting out fires isn’t a value-add activity
IT is dealing with an identity crisis. Who’s got time for strategy when you’re busy putting out fires? DataStax points out that tech experts with the potential for a huge impact on CX, like data architects, are “often consumed by monitoring and troubleshooting, not adding value.”
It’s hard to shift away from constant crisis management if you’re so swamped by help-desk tickets that you don’t know whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday. Shifting IT’s role to strategic from functional isn’t a simple problem, because it’s a cultural issue.
Your customer experience management approach for this year won’t be a competitive advantage next year. With this knowledge in mind, A.T. Kearney recommends IT teams:
- Maximize the value of IT assets
- Reduce IT complexity
- Focus innovation on the customer
- Create a more strategic IT organization
When your endpoints can fight hackers, they’re easier to manage. While reducing IT complexity isn’t easy, outsourcing and investing in better tech can reduce the number of fires you need to put out on any given day.
Takeaway #5: If you’re focused on making your tech work instead of making it better, IT can’t contribute to strategic change in the customer experience.
As an IT pro, you’re doing the best you can to fight hackers, ensure uptime, and deal with help-desk requests. That said, if you’re not viewing your tech decisions for what they are—the backbone of modern, digital customer experiences—it’s strategically risky. It’s time to fight for a more customer-focused, strategic approach to IT decisions.