The Customer Experience Revolution

How will your company actually use the latest and emerging technologies to create a competitive advantage through customer experience?

I recently started reading Steve Cases’s new book, The Third Wave where Steve lays out a framework for the various waves of evolution that have served as the foundation for the modern internet, and for what the internet will become in the coming years. From companies like Cisco, AOL and IBM that built the initial back bone and infrastructure of the internet, to the second wave of companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook that created platforms to actually use and monetize the internet, the third wave is expected to go even further and connect people and things in a more ubiquitous way than ever before. It is here, in this third wave, that I see the customer experience really becoming more critical than ever before in how companies compete and survive.

It is no longer enough to simply have or use a certain technology. Companies will have to be more strategic and purposeful than ever before to ensure that their customer experience is highly superior to that of their competitors. We are starting to see these challenges emerge as companies invest in things like cloud computing, big data analytics and custom application development, but without a cohesive plan to tie those technologies to customer experience. Companies from every sector of the economy are fully aware of what these technologies are and what they do, but they have not yet figured out how to best use those technologies in a way that actually creates a consistent, competitive advantage.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 89% of company executives believe that customer experience will be the primary mode of competition by the end of 2016. Conversely, according to a survey conducted by Avanade and Sitecore, the biggest obstacle to delivering a good customer experience is related directly to outdated and antiquated IT, sales, marketing and service systems. This all being the case, what can and should companies do to stay ahead of the curve with their customers? Here are three recommendations.

  1. Create a comprehensive customer experience strategy – For years, strategy around technology was just that, a plan by which a company would find and use the latest technology to hopefully increase revenues, cut costs or grow market share. But what about a customer experience strategy? Does your company have a strategy in place? If so, what does it look like? Who are the creators and stakeholders? Moving forward, companies need to start with a desired customer experience outcome and build both a technology infrastructure and the right personnel around that vision.
  2. Bridge the gap between IT and business – The responsibilities of IT and business of any given company are no longer mutually exclusive. Both parties need to be fully engaged and contributing to a shared customer experience vision. A more diverse set of perspectives will enrich any given customer experience strategy.
  3. The strategy must be dynamic – Customer needs and desires are changing constantly. What might have been most attractive to customers this year, might not be so attractive or useful next year. A customer experience strategy needs to be a living breathing thing, that is allowed to evolve as rapidly as needed.

Our office sits not too far from the original AOL headquarters in Dulles VA. I worked for AOL as an intern while in college back in 2003 and to this day, I still drive by the AOL campus a few times a week. I’ll never forget the first time I walked down the main hall of the AOL headquarters building and past framed copies of each AOL release CD that had been mailed to millions of people. It was an exhilarating experience and really felt like I was sitting at the center of the world. Now when I drive by the AOL campus, all but the original AOL headquarters building are marked with Raytheon signs and I’m reminded of how a one-time tech titan, has faded into internet history. This is stark and recent reminder that technology alone will never sustain a company – not even the world’s largest companies.

Does your company have a strategic and comprehensive customer experience strategy in place, or are you at risk of going the way of AOL?