All Roads Lead to the Customer

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Customer experience was a defining mantra for business throughout the 2010s, as organisations came to understand that their success was not only about with what they produced, but largely dependent on their relationship to the people who engaged with them.

A whole raft of spin-off thinking – from the importance of recurring revenue streams, to the hunt for complementary acquisitions – pushed businesses to structure around the  customer relationship. It also defined technology investments. Today, it’s unacceptable to build a systems infrastructure and expect customers to conform to your way of doing things. Systems must adapt to customer behaviour.

And that’s where Intelligent Automation can help.

It’s already happening

One component of Intelligent Automation aimed at customers is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). We’re seeing increasingly sophisticated chatbots, for example, handling basic customer interactions. But it’s wrong to assume that chatbots are the end-point for automation around customers.

While it’s true chatbots can be integrated with RPA, they also exist outside that narrow definition, in ways that might increase the customer experience even more richly and to give more and more benefits to them and users within the business.

More importantly, deploying a chatbot without seeing how that, as a process, interacts with other parts of the business means it risks being a huge missed opportunity. So while RPA can be part of an Intelligent Automation approach, it’s never more than that: one part.

Cocktail hour...

The secret of great customer engagement is delivering a smart cocktail of elements. How you mix product or service design with cost, brand, customer journeys, transaction experience and after-sales – all of it matters. A lot. And the blend will be different for each business and offering – and increasingly needs to be tailored to markets or even individual customers. Mixing that cocktail effectively – rather than just throwing elements together, is tricky.

The same is true of the technology you deploy. And just as the interaction between all those customer engagement factors determines the ultimate customer experience – the cocktail has to work – how you combine systems to underpin them is critical.

That means it’s not enough to just have great analytics in the back end and a smart chatbot at the front, for example. Those two elements must build on each other. Intelligent Automation is the glue that can knit them together. So in a call centre, for example, you might be using analytics and data capabilities to drive algorithms within a better decisioning system, feeding back to a virtual agent – and tweaking the transaction processing engine.

A framework for customer focus

The key point is that the customer is a great lens through which to view any of these technology investments. McKinsey’s analysis of customer experience breaks down into three areas, and they all relate back to that idea of mixing the ideal tech cocktail:

Observe: “understand the interaction through the customer’s eyes.” It’s not enough to consider brand, for example, or even the user experience of any given touchpoint. You need smarter analytics and a clear, holistic view of customer journeys to gain real insights.

Point being… the more you can drive these insights automatically, and feed them into other design and execution elements of the business, the more valuable the observations will be.

Shape: “redesign the business from the customer back.” This demands investment in automation – and wider tech – all the way through the back office as well as at the points of customer interaction. Is customer behaviour automatically driving supplier understanding of demand? How sensitive are your HR training systems to customer feedback?

Point being… there is a direct line from the customer experience to even the most back-office of systems such as finance and HR. Finding ways to connect them is paramount.

Perform: “align the organisation to deliver against tangible outcomes.” McKinsey focuses on human operatives here, highlighting the need to develop a customer-centric culture and expose every employee to the customer’s point of view. But it applies equally to systems – and particularly automation. Customers are used to the ease and efficiency of category leaders such as Amazon or Facebook. They have raised expectations about speed and effectiveness. The whole organisation needs to be responsive – and right first time.

Point being… Intelligent Automation provides a way to secure this higher level of performance; but, equally, ‘digital workers’ need to be every bit as aligned around the customer journey as human ones.

Sometimes the big wins can be tiny

The other reason it’s important to look holistically at the organisation is that even the smaller incremental benefits in user experience you attain from Intelligent Automation ripple through to results. If you increase customer satisfaction and can then show how that has an impact on customer attrition, all of a sudden your customer lifetime value goes up. That's an impact a lot larger than the few seconds you're saving on a call.

Note that this also encapsulates the value of generating good analytics automatically from your interconnected systems. There ought to be a positive feedback loop between that smoother customer interaction and how the system iterates – whether it’s sophisticated machine learning behind a chatbot, or management focusing investment in new areas.

The end state we’re looking for is clear: an agile organisation where an intimate, real-time insight into the customer ripples automatically though systems and processes to deliver fast and accurate experiences – whether it’s the first enquiry, just-in-time manufacturing, timely fulfilment or an after-sales service call.

Only the customer can provide that clarity of focus – and offers a way to align human and digital forces within the organisation.


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