CIOs need to start driving positive and profitable customer experiences now

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IT has a significant role to play in improving customer experiences, beginning with the right data management and integration strategy, streamlined security, and personalization know-how.

CIOs understand by now that enabling positive customer experiences is a requirement of the job. Given the effect that data management has on delivering superior experiences to end customers – by driving loyalty and revenue – it makes perfect sense to involve the CIO. Yet, there often remains a disconnect between intent and execution. In a 2015 study of brands across 18 industries, Forrester Research reported that only 15 percent of brands received good scores when it comes to customer experience, and a mere 1 percent of brands received a score of excellent.

This disconnect may be a leadership gap – but it’s also technological. Let’s say you had a bad experience at a hotel, resulting in conversations with the hotel manager during your stay. A week later, you receive a survey to provide feedback on your visit. What you should have received was a personal letter from the hotel, inviting you to come back with a one-night free offer. In another example, you receive an email offer for discounted concert tickets. You click the link within moments of receiving the email, only to find that the show is already sold out. These are both extremely poor customer experiences, which are preventable through systems and processes integrated for real-time interactions.

CIOs are expected to play a primary role in the vision and strategy for improving the customer experience, which increasingly is digital, according to a study conducted by Accenture. Killer customer experiences begin by reducing friction – making it virtually painless for the customer to use the product or service, to interact with the company and to resolve issues. Once you’ve got all that nailed, pour yourself a glass of champagne because you are in the minority. But next, strive to deliver information and offers that your customers truly appreciate. 

Here’s an example: Runkeeper recently ran a win-back campaign targeting users who had become inactive. The company offered a free T-shirt to people who decided to get off the couch and at least walk for 15 minutes using the app. More than 200,000 inactive users responded to the promotion and re-engaged with the app. This campaign succeeded because of the tight collaboration between IT and marketing. Runkeeper’s IT group facilitated an environment where marketers could execute the campaign on the fly, allowing them both control and access to the right data at the right time. Such initiatives build upon each other and over time create loyal and satisfied customers.

Here are some further ideas on how CIOs can be active partners in driving positive and profitable customer experiences:

1. Turn back the decentralized data movement. There’s been plenty of talk over the years about the positives and negatives concerning shadow IT and consumer IT. Let’s face it, IT cannot exercise complete control over technology anymore. Yet, if a free-for-all environment means that each department and sub-department has a different system for storing customer data, CIOs are building an integration nightmare that will work against every marketing goal and creative idea that comes to light. This is especially problematic if a company is trying to create cross-channel marketing opportunities and an experience that is fluid for someone moving between the website, phone, or physical store. Data siloes also make it impossible to attribute revenues to the proper channel, such as email, social or mobile. That, in turn, affects budgeting and planning.

2. Make integration a top decision factor in new systems. The CIO has the best view on which platforms and architectures are in place and how they fit together. When IT owns and drives the high-level technology vision for systems that will house customer data, the business will ultimately benefit. Deploying technology that will best integrate with internal systems allows IT to provide a global view of customer behavior. A highly-integrated stack means that data is fresh no matter what system an employee is using. While integration is a continual work in progress, when systems are developed and purchased with integration in mind, marketers can be more agile. They don’t waste time waiting on systems to sync up. Marketers should ask vendors exactly how their technology integrates with existing systems, and at what cost. It’s the job of the marketing chief to share those discussions with IT.

3. Develop a culture of collaboration. Marketing and IT chiefs haven’t always seen eye to eye but finding common ground might be easier than you think once plans are tied back to larger business goals. Marketers want and expect the unified customer view and analytics at their fingertips, but may not understand the time and cost to get there. IT’s job is to lay out the requirements and options so that marketers can prioritize based on the highest return and help develop an incremental plan to evolve the infrastructure to support customer-centric strategies. 

4. Rethink SaaS security. SaaS solutions have helped companies achieve faster time-to-market and cost savings when adding new functionality, but IT departments have simultaneously lost a degree of control over security. Suddenly, data that was managed internally for years is exported to a third-party provider’s data centers. Depending on the type and sensitivity of data, the risk may not be acceptable nor the increased complexity of syncing data between the SaaS provider and your internal systems. If you don’t have to, why give a copy of your most sensitive data to another company? A different approach is to deploy systems that segregate the data and application between internal servers and the cloud. Sensitive customer data remains behind the firewall within one piece of the application, and easier to manage. Meanwhile, the SaaS component manages marketing activities such as email campaigns and personalized ad delivery.

5. Understand personalization. Consumers today expect tailored communications from their favorite brands, with appropriate recognition of their preferences and interests. CIOs need to understand the technology requirements for delivering relevant, personalized messages that adapt to not only individuals but situational context, such as location, weather and even world events. This includes determining the company’s top use cases for personalization in order to select the appropriate personalization software to meet those needs. For example, if a restaurant chain wants to send customers a deal when they are driving nearby one of their locations, the CIO must effectively enable that specific scenario. Finally, CIOs need to provide tools for the measurement and refinement of personalization tactics.

Customers want better experiences from the companies they do business with, not just the latest greatest thing. Today, most marketers aren’t delivering on that, due to a host of factors including technology gaps, cultural or process issues, and misplaced priorities. The CIO can step up to the plate here, by working with their business counterparts to understand what customers want and when, and setting the right plan for getting there with security, governance, and costs in mind.

Dan is co-founder and CEO of MessageGears. He guides MessageGears’ product strategy and corporate development, and previously served as CTO at Accucast, a pioneer in email marketing acquired by PGi. Before Accucast, Dan was with Delta Air Lines where he was instrumental in building its award-winning website and e-commerce platform.