There was a time when “customer experience” was limited to what happened to you when you walked into a store, restaurant, or other place of business or when you called a business on the telephone. But that was back when you could still smoke on airplanes.
These days your customer experience, or CX, isn’t limited to the physical world or the telephone. In fact, CX is far more likely to happen via a Web browser or mobile application. And that online experience is just as likely to happen on Facebook or Twitter as it is on a company’s Website. Chances are that you’ve combined a physical customer experience with a virtual customer experience by looking up product reviews while standing in a retail store contemplating a purchase.
So it’s no wonder that CX has become a significant factor in enterprise IT as companies enter the latest phase in the ongoing battle for customer attention and loyalty.
“In many industries, products and services in and of themselves are now less of a differentiating factor for consumers,” says John Brunswick, an enterprise architect with the Oracle WebCenter team and a prolific blogger (johnbrunswick.com) on the technical aspects of CX. “Ensuring consistent, high-quality engagement across all channels and various stages of an individual’s journey with a brand allows organizations to distinguish themselves.”
But wooing and wowing customers with a distinctive customer experience isn’t getting any easier.
“From an enterprise IT standpoint, the consumerization of technology has greatly increased customer expectations,” says Brunswick. “This elevation can create a series of challenges.”
One of those challenges is presenting a unified face to the customer, especially when the company behind that visage is a collection of separate marketing, sales, support, and other customer-facing operating units.
“Back-office systems have generally not been designed to efficiently support transparent CX for outside parties,” Brunswick explains. “But for organizations that have focused on enterprise architecture and implementing capabilities, rather than discrete technical solutions, adaptation to supporting rich CX is less costly and less time consuming.”
That adaptation also involves embracing the evolving manner in which users relate to technology. “The pendulum of CX is moving away from function toward form. This is driven largely by demographic shifts,” says Oracle ACE Billy Cripe, an Oracle WebCenter specialist, executive with Digitiliti, and self-described social media Jedi. “The boomer generation favored all-in-one solutions that delivered superior value while sacrificing the sexiness of experience. The millennial generation favors form over function. They’re willing to sacrifice some capability at the edges in favor of a convenient and fun experience. It’s iPhone over BlackBerry. It’s Amazon over Best Buy.”
Customers now expect from technology a reflection of how they expect to be treated by businesses under this new CX paradigm.
“CX is important because it crosses the boundaries of traditional customer relationship management,” says Ultan O’Broin, director of global user experience for Oracle. “It’s contextual, social, and real-time digital interaction. No more the customer—only this customer. It’s goodwill gone viral, gone virtual.”
That shift in focus to the individual customer is not lost on sharp architects.
In his work helping clients design and develop health insurance exchange solutions, Oracle enterprise architect Eric Stephens reports that CX is very much on the radar.
“It’s important that the CX is meaningful, engaging, and aligned,” Stephens says, “and that the underlying application, information, and technology components are aligned with the CX needs.”
The architecture of the human experience in the twenty-first century is increasingly defined by the overlap of the physical and virtual worlds. The challenge for businesses—and for architects—is to create a customer experience that, ironically, is made a bit more human by virtue of technological innovation.
“In a software-intensive world,” explains Stephens, “performance characteristics and features may be equal, but the Zen of CX is what will draw folks to a particular product or platform.”
GET more architect information
READ “Customer Experience Reference Architecture,” an Oracle white paper