The Secret Ingredients for Your Customer Experience Strategy: Cross-Departmental Collaboration + CCaaS, by Austin Herrington, Senior Director, Windstream Business
The concept of "Customer Experience" has hit the big time. It no longer resides nearly exclusively in the customer care department, with only occasional field trips out to meetings with the marketing team. Customer Experience is now a topic that is on the agendas of executive team meetings in boardrooms across every industry under the sun, and that means buy-in from the highest levels of organizations for large-scale initiatives to integrate and enhance every point of contact that a company has with its customers.

For those of us who have lived and breathed Customer Experience since before it had a catchy name, it's rewarding to see these concepts of integrated, customer-centric processes embraced by corporate leadership. But it takes much more than boardroom buy-in to make a Customer Experience strategy come to life. Don't get me wrong. Buy-in from the senior management team is vital, but much more is required to achieve the organization-wide changes that are necessary steps in these transformative undertakings. Having the right level of collaboration organizationally and having the right enabling technology cannot be overstated as success factors for Customer Experience initiatives.

Added Challenges for Mid-Sized Businesses

These initiatives are complex for organizations of every size, but I will focus specifically on mid-sized companies in this article, which represent 200,000 businesses in the United States. Mid-sized companies have unique challenges when it comes to implementing these customer care efforts, not only because of the organizational size but also because of their resources and the technology they typically have in place today.

In contrast to mid-sized companies, small companies have much smaller staffs, limited numbers of customers, and more modest technology to manage in enhancing their customer case processes. My intention is not to be dismissive of the challenges for small businesses, but their size is a major advantage in simplifying the scale of Customer Experience efforts.

Large enterprises are also a very different animal, both because of their size, geographic reach, much deeper pockets and far greater resources. They often have the luxury of throwing money and resources at these challenges in the form of outside consultants who can spearhead organizational transformation initiatives. These are complex efforts, to say the least, but they have lots of help and the resources to push these projects to the finish line.

Mid-sized companies, however, have fewer resources than large enterprises but have much more organizational complexity than small businesses. They typically don't have the resources to bring in highly specialized consultants to lead these projects, yet they have complex organizational and technology needs that make Customer Experience strategies challenging. As such, it is all the more important that they tackle Customer Experience initiatives in a smart way that makes sense given their intricate needs but limited resources. That is where cross-departmental collaboration and the right technology come into play.

Collaboration Is Key…

There may be no other organizational initiative that involves the number and variety of departments and personnel that a Customer Experience initiative does. These efforts include the customer care department, the sales team, the marketing department, the CIO and technology team, product development teams, engineering teams, website designers, app developers, external vendors and the senior management team.

All of those groups need to be working off of the same implementation plan for the complex series of steps, which will include the rollout of new procedures, new customer interaction tools, and new measurement tools for analyzing the success of the initiative. Every organizational initiative of this size involves tremendous collaboration, but even companies that are fully braced for the scope of the collaboration may be surprised by how much orchestration is involved in these efforts.

…And Technology Is the Catalyst

Executives at mid-sized companies who give the green light for major Customer Experience initiatives may also be surprised at how much of their companies' current technology needs to be upgraded or replaced in order to implement the plan. The challenge is significant for mid-market companies, because so many rely on legacy technology, particularly in key areas that come into play for customer interactions.

The company's customer care department is one area where that becomes painfully apparent. In mid-sized companies, the customer care structure might be a formal call center or just a small group of people with customer service/sales/tech support roles that collaborate as a virtual customer care department. Regardless of what exact shape a customer contact center takes, the common thread across the mid-market is that most companies are likely using a patchwork of outdated, on-premise software programs to manage customer interactions.

That patchwork of programs is likely to be pushed beyond its capabilities by the demands of more customer interactions, more proactive calls, live chat, email interactions, social media communications and more. Those legacy systems also typically lack the analytics necessary to measure the positive impact of the Customer Experience initiative.

Early, Top-Level Involvement Needed

Collaboration and technology may seem like a no-brainer at first glance, but companies make some common mistakes with each of those, which can combine to undermine the initiative in fundamental ways. For example, a company might focus on collaboration between customer care, sales engineering, the marketing team and the web design team… but may feel hesitant to take up much of the CIO's time for the numerous meetings involved in these efforts.

The need for the CIO/technology team involvement from the earliest stages of a Customer Experience project is critical, as is their intensive involvement throughout every succeeding step. These meetings may not be the most comfortable forum for a CIO, but a recent Forrester report stated that 75 percent of all CIOs are being asked to make Customer Experience a priority.

Close collaboration with CIOs and the technology team is crucial because customers use technology to interact with companies in so many ways today, and because companies need the right technology to meet customers' needs and track the outcomes of those interactions.

Taking Proactive Steps To Improve Customer Experience

Here is a working list of some of the many technology aspects of these projects:

• Most mid-sized companies will actually need to wipe the slate clean when it comes to call center technology, because those legacy customer care tools cannot support the types of interactions the company wants to provide.

• The simplest and most cost-effective way to upgrade this infrastructure is usually with a Contact Center as a Solution (CCaaS) that uses web-based technologies to simplify and accelerate the implementation in a clean transition away from legacy technology.

• In addition to implementing a CCaaS, the company may decide to do an overhaul of its website to incorporate a number of online customer interaction tools that are linked to the CCaaS.

• As if that isn't enough, the company may decide that smartphone and tablet apps are critical, adding yet another major dimension to the technology to-do list

• Last but not least, all of the technology above may not perform well on the legacy network infrastructure and connectivity that the company has in place, which means that a new network strategy (typically based on an SD-WAN model) may be a prerequisite for everything else that the CIO carries out.

That is a long list of technology must-haves for a Customer Experience initiative, and each of them will require tremendous collaboration between the CIO and the other departments involved in implementation. For mid-sized companies, no two Customer Experience initiatives are the same and that means that no two technology roadmaps for these efforts are the same either. Close collaboration between all of the stakeholders and departments is the key to ensuring that the technology aligns tactically with new customer care practices and aligns strategically with the overall vision from the senior management team.

About the Author: Austin Herrington is Senior Director of Product Management at Windstream Business, which provides the full range of data, voice, network and cloud solutions to large enterprises and mid-sized businesses. In this role, Herrington manages Windstream's CCaaS and UCaaS solutions.