The Connected World: Delivering the Best-in-class Customer Experience of Tomorrow and Beyond

By Theodora Lau. founder of Unconventional Ventures. an advisor and a contributor to top industry events and publications.

While few organizations would argue the importance of customer experience: many still have trouble delivering what is needed to meet the evolving customer demands and compete effectively in today’s world. Beyond having a customer-centric vision and the aspiration to do what is right: companies must be willing to undertake a more holistic approach to customer experience.

In the heart of it all lies the transformation to integrated technology platforms and processes that enable businesses to reimagine and redesign the end-to-end customer touchpoints: and to better leverage data as one of their most valuable assets. And such a journey begins with the cloud.

Cloud as the unsung hero of transformation.
From daily productivity tools such as email and file storage to customer relationship management and order management more and more organizations have adopted cloud-based solutions: which exists virtually and without being limited to an on-premise workstation or desktop: making it much easier for users to access anytime and anywhere: and for IT to perform updates and maintenance.

While the reasons for the shift to the cloud vary: the need to improve data security: meet evolving customer needs: and increase agility and resilience in systems and processes are often cited as some of the top drivers behind enterprise cloud app adoption. The change in workplace dynamics and shift to remote or hybrid work in the past two years has also given the transformation much needed urgency. The increased adoption of cloud-based applications has become the unsung hero that enabled a smoother transition while delivering a superior experience needed for organizations to compete in today’s environment — and this trend is expected to continue. It is no wonder that Infosys predicted in their Cloud Radar Report that cloud adoption can help businesses add $414 billion of annual profit.

Consider the following transformation story, where the largest power utility in Southern California with a highly customized legacy customer service solution with 150 legacy systems sought a new integrated technology platform that would allow them to adapt more easily to the changing needs of customers and business environments. The resulting sales: service: and marketing cloud platform: serving five million customer accounts: provides a unified 360-degree view of the customer information: helps the utility provider improve customer satisfaction and drives over $10 million reduction in operational costs due to legacy systems consolidation.

Beyond productivity improvement: cloud-based applications also provide an opportunity for businesses to operate differently: boosting profits: and creating a competitive edge for businesses: while improving the experiences for customers and growing the customer base. The latter point is particularly crucial as we have become more reliant on digital interaction in almost every aspect of our lives.

With digital being table stakes: organizations need to move beyond the low hanging fruit to provide a truly delightful customer experience in a fast-changing environment. Technology spending will continue to grow in all directions: with IDC predicting that spending on computation and storage cloud infrastructure will hit $118.8bn in 2025. This evolving trend will ripple through different industries from financial services and healthcare to telecommunications and retail: and across business operations from enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management to supply chain management to human resources management.

Transforming the end-to-end customer experience.
From lead to cash: to customer care: organizations can deliver a seamless end-to-end customer experience across all customer touchpoints through thoughtful transformation of technology and processes with cloud-based applications: advanced data analytics: artificial intelligence: via an integrated platform. Even more importantly: valuable insight generated from the customers: whether it is B2B or B2C: can be fed back to help organizations identify opportunities to improve customer satisfaction and sales.

Here are a few interesting use cases to consider for customer experience transformation beyond digitization.

  • Payments and retail
    • Where credit card payment software is typically embedded in hardware devices: having a cloud-based alternative can enable more devices to accept card-based payments: reducing the need for expensive hardware and removing the need to run manual updates for each device.
    • This new infrastructure can also pave the way to support an invisible payment experience in the future for retail consumers: Imagine trying a new outfit in front of a smart mirror and being able to just walk out the door without explicitly stopping at the exit to check out. Customer insights from the purchase experience: including shopping behavior and preferences: can enable the retailers to create a more engaging and personalized experience for their customers: providing upsell and cross sell opportunities along the customer journey.
    • From the retailer’s perspective: the data around the customer behavior: their buying patterns: and preferences: coupled with advanced data analytics: can help retailers anticipate trends and make adjustments in anticipation of change: enabling better inventory management and stock replenishment. And most importantly: this will drive cost efficiency with improved supply chain management: and help retailers build more trusted customer relationships with value added services.
  • Mobility and collaboration
    • While we are on the topic of the Internet of things : another interesting use case is the interactive smart board that allows teams to collaborate anywhere: in real time on any devices: via virtual whiteboard apps: providing them with a more immersive experience that is crucial for today’s decentralized workplace. With organizations increasingly opting for more flexible work arrangement: these cloud-based whiteboard applications enable team members to work in both synchronous and asynchronous manners: bridging the physical distances while facilitating higher level of idea and content sharing.
    • Meanwhile: businesses can also leverage these tools to conduct collaboration sessions with clients (for example brainstorming) anytime and anywhere: providing the agility required to compete in today’s fast paced digital environment and reducing the complexity associated with in-person presentations: while improving the client experience.

Embarking on the omnichannel customer journey
Is the future all digital? Or will we still require branches and physical stores? Moving from analog to digital: and from local to cloud-based applications: is just the beginning of a long transformation journey.

Before we go any further: it might be useful to take a moment to reflect on how customer behavior has evolved in the last two years. One of the most interesting trends was the evolution and quick adoption of buy-online: pick up at curbside. Of course: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly: the line between our online and real life activities has begun to blur as the technology continues to improve and customer expectations change.

Companies are no longer competing with their peers in the same industry; rather: customers are demanding the same seamless and personalized experiences they have come to get from their everyday lives — regardless of industry verticals and channels. This is especially true for financial services: where the always-on: omnipresent: and omnichannel experiences that consumers have come to expect from many big technology companies are likely much more advanced than most banks can provide. Now: more than ever: it is crucial that organizations evolve their technology stack and operations in order to adapt accordingly.

But that is often easier said than done: especially for financial institutions and healthcare institutions: where many of the processes remain manual and labor intensive: and large amounts of data is often dispersed in many highly customized legacy systems.

Here are a few challenges that executives typically face:

  • Fragmented internal systems that are highly customized are difficult and costly to maintain and can lead to the ‘swivel chair’ effect: resulting in higher call handling times and poor customer experience. While financial institutions have been adding more capabilities to their mobile apps and online portals: there remain an extensive number of processes that are not digitized: resulting in a broken customer journey: the need for in-person visits to the bank branch: or manual interventions.
  • System siloes create fragmented customer data that is often complex and time consuming to work with. The lack of a comprehensive 360-degree view of the customer can also restrict product development and marketing capabilities: resulting in lost revenue opportunities and complex customer service processes. This also limits the ability to establish an effective feedback mechanism for organizations to properly act upon the insights they receive. As the saying goes: data by itself is not always useful. The value comes with advanced analytics and the ability to create actionable insights to support better decisioning and proactive response. In order for organizations to better leverage one of their most valuable assets: they must first integrate their applications and create one version of truth: a journey best undertaken with a trusted partner.

According to Dennis Gada: Senior Vice President & Head – Financial Services: North America: Infosys, financial services institutions are recognizing the opportunities and ramping up efforts to leverage the cloud for digital transformation: creating new customer journeys and driving business agility.

“The focus is also shifting to modernizing applications, building new cloud native platforms and unlocking the power of their data on cloud with analytics and AI/ML use cases.”

This is best illustrated by the case study of a digital transformation CX program undertaken by a large India-based financial and wealth management service provider: with 200 branches and a customer base of over 50 million. According to Infosys: the initiative has resulted in a 10% increase in revenues from digital channels and a 5% reduction in cost of customer conversion and average call handling time.

Not a nice-to-have, but must-have
As the line between physical and digital continues to blur: and as competitions intensify: customer expectations will continue to evolve. Organizations must continue to modernize and optimize their end-to-end and cross channel customer journey in order to not just survive: but thrive. This demands the utmost adaptability and agility in process: people: and culture. Finding a trusted partner in the process will be key to the transformation journey. By leveraging partners and as-a-service platforms: organizations can focus less on the mechanics of the technology and more on the applications of it to transform the customer journey. Creating a comprehensive view of the customer is just a start. To effectively compete in today’s environment and plan for the future: organizations must move from offering products: to demonstrating value: which will require a deep understanding of the customer’s needs and wants.

About the Author:
Theodora Lau is the founder of Unconventional Ventures, a public speaker, and an advisor. She is the co-author of Beyond Good, and co-host of One Vision, a podcast on fintech and innovation. She is also a regular contributor for top industry events and publications, including Journal of Digital Banking, Harvard Business Review, and Nikkei Asian Review.