Customer centricity is the all-important dimension for business success. While efficiency has always been a prime denominator of success, in today’s uncertain business environment, functional efficiency matters little unless there is customer focus.
The task in front of CIOs is to build customer-focused roadmaps for their business. In many enterprises, CIOs have already morphed from being a tech-head to a core business leader. CIOs are now an integral part of the business, attending strategy and brainstorming meetings, apart from ensuring the IT systems work seamlessly.
In the webinar titled “Accelerating Customer Centricity in Times of Uncertainty”, Mukund Krishna, Founder CEO of Suyati Technologies chats with three CIOs in industries as varied as food, entertainment and construction/infrastructure to understand how they steered their businesses to become more customer centric. Here is a synopsis of the webinar. To view the complete discussion, click here.
Putting Customer Centricity on Top
Pete Gibson, the CIO and CTO of Friendly’s Restaurants contained the downside of his restaurant chain to just 30%, when COVID-19 induced lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates plummeted restaurant businesses by as much as 90% in many places.
Pete took a proactive approach to customer-centricity. The company launched innovative offerings centred on delivery services and custom food for individuals. Instead of a one-size-fits-all centralised strategy, the team chalked out a distinct strategy for each restaurant, considering the demographics of its catchment area. They focused on delivering products which sold the most in the area. The company had already positioned distribution as a distinct revenue channel. As such, when the pandemic hit, the shift from in-dining model to a distribution company went smoothly. The IT team orchestrated the transformation, with a hands-on approach to revenue management, changing pricing up and down to optimize demand and other critical day-to-day aspects.
Combating the Digital Divide
According to Maurice Tayeh, Global CIO, Hatch, the best technology focuses on the connected worker. The new digital environment mandates seamless collaboration and connectivity, to enable work-from-anywhere.
Enhancing the customer experience requires providing employees with the infrastructure to do their job fast. The CIO, however, has to do much more than establish robust communication channels. The enterprise expects the CIO to make sure the right information reaches the right persons, to enable them to make the correct decisions.
In early 2020, when it was evident a pandemic was round the corner, Hatch started preparing for the coming storm. They formed committees at the business level, co-opting people from the board, operations, and IT. IT collaborated to ensure connectivity for seamless business operations. The company overcame the key challenge of transitioning employees to work from homes seamlessly, with no downtime.
Creating Seamless Customer Journeys
COVID-19 has accelerated the position of CIO as a strategic business leader, who spends more time thinking of strategies to engage with the customer, than behind the firewall. CIOs now have to integrate the customer experience by improving engagement along the entire journey.
According to Les Ottolenghi, Former EVP and CIO, Caesars Entertainment Solutions, the role of the CIO has mentally shifted over the last 20 years. CIOs have become much more than an asset manager focused on making sure the desktop has the right application or ensuring network uptime. Tech leaders of today have to understand and envisage a strategy as to how technology enables customer engagement and the journey the customer will take in the digital world.
All forward-looking businesses, be it B2B or B2C, are busy transforming customer-facing functions such as marketing and sales, to improve the customer experience. They deploy a host of solutions, such as CRM, analytics and visualization tools, ticketing platforms, machine learning technology and more, to understand customers better and cater to their preferences. However, many of these systems do not deliver the expected value. The reasons vary, from faulty platform selection to not configuring the business function to get the right user interactions.
CIOs become accountable for the returns on the technology implementation, even when the poor returns may not be due to the technology. CIOs have to become change agents, heralding a change in thinking. For instance, many enterprises treat the CRM as a stand-alone application, divorced from the rest of the technology stack. Effectiveness and improved customer experience depends on integrating the CRM with other enterprise systems. For instance, when the field management suite feeds updated data to the CRM, a customer support agent can refer to the latest transaction without the customer having to repeat information. The CIO has to first educate the workforce about the difference between product and service and then provide ongoing processes to support it.
Ceasars Entertainment overcame such obstacles by going all out with digital transformation. The company executed seven major digital transformation projects in 30 months, to modernise and integrate the entire technology stack concurrently. Picking one or two at random would have meant repeating the same difficult process multiple times. Following the exercise, Ceasars could enrol 55 million visitors to its loyalty program, out of its 100 million visitor base.
Successful CIOs –
- Learn from their customers, both internal and external. They talk to their customers, get feedback, probe the inputs, and act on what makes sense.
- Focus on small, effective implementation. Many successful CIOs indulge in rapid iterations over 30 day periods. These iterations integrate into the overall digital transformation exercise, making it seem like an ongoing process.
- Measure everything in 30 day period over two to three years, rather than follow the conventional approach of quarterly measurements and evaluations.
Greater Thrust on Analytics
Enterprises have been steadily going digital over the years when the COVID-19 pandemic gave it a big boost. Taking digitalization to its logical end, a major task of the CIO is to advance analytics and propel customer retention with a data-driven organization. Today’s CIOs face the twin challenge of putting the right data strategy in place, and capturing the right data from business functions, especially customer-facing functions.
Infographic : 7 Quick Steps to a Great CX with AI and Automation
Good decisions depend on data integrity. The onus is on the CIO to collect relevant data. For this, the CIO has to master the key elements that drive the business and contribute to its growth. Emerging technology such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Language improve the decision-making capabilities of the enterprise. But success depends on feeding the algorithms with the right data. Smart CIOs aggregate data collection points and harmonize it. They study patterns of customer behaviour, such as how much time each customer spends on any touch-point, to determine its value proposition. Understanding the patterns makes it easy to create opportunities for engagement.
Most C-suites empower the CIO to propose technology and processes and make investments based on their recommendations. The C-suite expects the investment to generate revenue and reduce cost. They look on the IT team to add new technology and orchestrate digital transformation for the same.
CIOs who deliver a positive return on their investments understand that IT is not just technology, but also services. Great service, technology and innovation unlock revenue. Smart CIOs apply innovative models to generate revenue and reduce cost. They leverage new platforms, tie critical infrastructure and software to the strategic goals of the enterprise, and provide impeccable service to both internal and external customers. Successful innovations curate a scalable business model that unlocks value.
CIOs with good leadership skills lead from the front to drive innovation. They:
- Learn the core technology around software, hardware, and connectivity. They keep themselves updated with best practices related to digital journeys.
- Become business thinkers, mastering the steps that define the customer journey, and what it looks like at each touch point. They map it back to the architecture and create systems and technologies to support the journey.
- Develop customer engagement models that define what each step of the customer journey look like, and the key dependencies or leverages points that enable the customer journey. They define the enterprise architecture that sets service standards and then sets priorities for application and project portfolio.
Often, non-IT teams and business partners have the best ideas regarding new technology and new revenue models. Effective CIOs strikes a rapport with the broader team, and learn from their ideas, to create an innovative organization and to drive innovation and trigger transformational change.