Why Is Digital Customer Experience Truly Different

by Sven Gerjets, Former CIO, Time Warner Cable

Recently I have been advising a startup called Quantum Metric on their go to market strategy. Their product allows companies to quickly identify revenue impacting issues on their website through predictive analytics and creates the ability to play back user sessions for rapid troubleshooting. This opportunity has forced me to really think about why purely digital customer experiences are different for CIO’s when it comes to delivering technology and interacting with business partners. It has highlighted why we have to put our Chief Customer Experience Officer hats on when supporting our company’s online experiences.

I have had the privilege of working for some amazing Fortune 500 consumer companies in a number of industries. Even though the industries differed, these companies all had one thing in common. They had traditional customer experiences and they had purely digital ones. I remember the first time I was responsible for large e-commerce applications that supported nearly a billion dollars in revenue. The company was Symantec and my team supported the IT systems for the consumer business. It’s funny how negative experiences seem to stand out, because when I think about that job, one experience jumps out at me. It was one of the first times my business partner who was responsible for our online revenue called and said “our close rates are down five percent, your team must have broken something.” Little did I know at the time that these kinds of problems would haunt me from time to time for the next decade and a half. Sometimes we would find defects impacting the customers, while other times we would find things like pricing changes or market climate shifts to be the culprit.

When I joined the team at Symantec one thing that was communicated to me was that our sales team was very skittish any time we had a shift in close rates and they were very demanding. Like many leaders new to a role and facing a five percent impact to a key business metric, I quickly reacted or maybe I panicked a little. I pulled some of the best technicians off of projects and had them start reviewing changes and scouring logs trying to identify the problem. Unfortunately, two people eventually became eight and one week eventually became four with no root cause in site. I was sweating bullets when one day the sales righted themselves and we all scratched our heads. Not only did we waste a lot of time troubleshooting, we were weeks behind on a key project because of the diverted focus, and of course you don’t get a pass on those critical projects just because you were chasing your tail. These kinds of issues can easily snowball into career killers. To this day I still don’t know what happened or why but I learned a great lesson. Good enough is just not good enough when it comes to the digital customer experiences.

A purely digital experience is very different and must be treated with the respect it deserves. As I mentioned, all the companies I have worked for had a few things in common, they had millions of customers and some customers were heavy touch while others were completely digital in their interactions with the company. Of course the other thing the companies had in common was that they all were attempting to index higher toward the pure digital experiences. When you are delivering technology to high touch customers, defects and issues are no less impactful or important. In these cases you have a human data collection point that if trained right and enabled with the right processes can alert IT about problems that need to be resolved. If an agent is interacting directly with a customer and the CRM system is acting up for example, the agent can react and manage the situation usually with a positive outcome. In a purely digital experience any confusion or problem will result in completely failed customer interactions and there is no company representative there with the customer to help smooth things over. I recently read a statistic that said if a customer using a mobile application encounters two problems with the application, you have a fifty percent chance of that customer deleting the application from their phone. I’ve even heard that if the customer is a millennial, one defect will cause them to abandon your application all together. Not only do you not get a second chance to make a digital first impression, you really don’t know how well you are performing for your online customers because they leave, don’t come back, and often don’t take the time to complain. 

IT organizations have to come to grips with a few things when it comes to their digital business. First of all, the best executives that are accountable for driving digital results are going to be high strung and demanding and you have to learn to love them for it. They are being held accountable for tough business results and their users are often invisible. They are simply trying to protect their customers from poor quality, or slow performance or other things that make them want to go elsewhere. As a share holder this is exactly the personality you want running your digital business. The best way for IT to support an executive like this is genuinely care about their digital business results as much as they do. Once IT cares as much about the business metrics as they do about traditional ways of measuring IT success the unproductive tension between the digital business partners and IT will naturally dissipate. 

I have found that the sure way to win a digital executive over for life is to care about conversion rates, online revenue, and digital customer experience as much as they do. This means instrumenting your online experiences much more than your traditional applications and you must invest in tools that give you a clear understanding of where your customers are struggling. Eventually at Symantec we were able to recognize and alert on revenue impacting issues before the business called us. 

The good news is that today there are many more advanced and innovative tools out there that help IT organizations create digital experience transparency than we had 15 years ago. There are some great new products coming that recognize traditional tools will not cut it in a purely digital world. We need to quickly close the gap between the CIO and the CMO by aligning on the definition of success and by ensuring you have the capability to create transparency which builds trust between these critically intertwined functions.