Customer Experience

The Customer in Mind

by Sten Vesterli

Four Steps to ensure your IT projects are in sync with your customer experience strategy.

Oracle ACE Director When we talk about a good customer experience, we mean one that is personal without being invasive, across all points of contact. IT systems should be able to help us with that, but unfortunately, they often work against good customer experience.

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The problem with customer-facing IT systems is that they are not built for the customer. Even in-house systems are often specified by expert users or management without involving the people who will actually be the main users of the system. For these systems, the cost and effort of actually asking a small group of representative users to give feedback on the design is almost negligible, but organizations are still not doing it. For customer-facing systems, the effort to recruit test subjects is somewhat greater. Additionally, the emotional barriers to showing something to a real, live customer come into play—what if they don’t like it? The low awareness of the dramatic return on investment (ROI) on basic usability testing, combined with these extra barriers, mean that customer-facing systems are generally not usability tested with real users either.

White Elephants and Penny-Pinching

If you don’t test with real users, you are at significant risk of building expensive and little-used “white elephant” systems. Your external design agency will happily specify a great-looking solution, and your internal or external IT function will happily implement it. But there is no return on investment, because your customers won’t use it. But it gets worse. The ROI calculation for the new system is typically based on cost savings elsewhere. So as you add an inappropriate IT system to the customer experience mix, you are often simultaneously removing other interaction methods—such as the ability to actually speak to a real person.

The Solution

The solution is to submit any new customer-facing IT system, whether web, phone, or in-store, to the following four tests: Why, What, Who, Whether.

Why Why are you building this system? Do you want to add a new way of interacting with your customers, or does your business case depend on retiring other interactions? New systems do not detract from the customer experience and will not get you pilloried on social media—the worst-case scenario is that nobody uses it. But if you plan to retire an old system (such as the possibility of actually talking to a person in chat, on the phone or in-store), be very careful.
It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.”–Niccolò Machiavelli, 1469–1527

In today’s age of social media, you do not want to antagonize those who would like things unchanged—you want to persuade them.


What are you trying to achieve for the customer? Will the new system do something that the customer finds useful? You might think that the customer is just dying to get an app with your weekly specials on his smartphone. After all, everybody else has one, right? But unless you ask, you will never determine that users actually prefer the 400-plus square-inch display that they get from a two-page spread on paper over the six square-inch display on their smartphone.


Who are you addressing? Do you have a communication plan that contains personas covering your entire customer population? Your agency or your IT department can easily get carried away by new technological possibilities, but unless your entire target market consists of IT geeks and marketing executives, a smartphone app is not the only customer experience channel you need. It is your responsibility as a business manager to ensure that no customer segment is being forgotten in the rush towards this month’s hot new technology. Think about it: How many of your customers will actually be wearing Google Glass?


Having addressed the why, what, and who, it is time for you to decide whether the proposed project is a good idea. If you are building a new customer experience channel (in-store tablets to “ship your pants” like Kmart?), your ROI calculation is likely to be fluffy. In this case, consider the opportunity cost—could the resources spent on the new system improve customer experience more elsewhere? If you are building a system intended to replace a more expensive interaction, make sure you have tested with customers to determine how many will use the new interaction. Do not allow the ROI calculation to depend on a complete replacement of the old interaction.

A significant contribution factor to poor customer experience is the use of inappropriate technology. What is a valued and appreciated communication channel to one customer will be anathema to another. If you go through the four-step test in this article, you have a good chance of avoiding customer experience disasters.

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