Reflections from July discussions
Digital is about people, not just about data
‘We need more tools!’ is a common response to poor customer experience. Tools seduce us with their whizzy user interfaces and their potential to make sense out of big data. We are in the digital equivalent of a sweet shop, surrounded by the tantalising temptation that there is a tool to suit every taste and desire.
But at the same time we are increasingly paralysed by our tools. There are so many, and they are so flexible, that organisations now need people who have specialist knowledge of these tools. But unless senior managers also possess some of this specialist knowledge, they are unable to ask informed questions of all this data.
Digital tools increase complexity. This recognition is largely responsible for driving the adoption of hothousing and Agile ways of working, as organisations increasingly appreciated the value of structured face-to-face activity. But we can’t simply bury our heads in the sand and rely on face-to-face, we need a better understanding of how to work effectively in a networked era.
Customer Experience prevents us from being able to hide behind our tools – it pulls us out of data and back into reality. Listening to our customers’ experience shakes us out of groupthink by telling us what is actually happening, not what we’d like to think is happening.
This is where digital tools can really help. It has never been easier for organisations to listen to their customers, and this information provides a valuable perspective from which to identify where failures are happening. Organisations often ignore a negative customer experience as a ‘one-off’ as it is at odds with the story coming from the ‘big’ data. But we live in a world of complex systems, and every single person in that system has the power to influence others. What happens it that ‘one-off’ happens to have 100,000 followers on Twitter?
Customer communities provide a route to simplicity. Organisations that understand this are using digital tools effectively to bring the outside in by actively engaging with their customer communities. This engagement not only provides opportunities to improve customer experience and net promoter score, it is also a rich source of ideas for innovation and new product development. Who knows better how to improve our products than our customers?
Our customers want simple, seamless, interconnected experiences that put them at the centre. But our organisations are often structured and measured by product, divided into silos and hampered by technical and political barriers. Engaging with customer communities to learn about their experiences provides a way to cut through the complexities of organisational structure and transcend these barriers.
This engagement enables customer experience professionals to bring a unique and valuable perspective to an organisation. By combining their detailed knowledge of organisational structure and strategy with real experiences from customer communities, customer experience professionals are able to make strong business cases to improve organisational behaviour.
Many organisations avoid engaging with their customer communities because they are afraid of what they might hear. But this fear of ‘losing control of the message’ is indicative of a 20th century approach to communication. In today’s hyperconnected reality, listening to people is just as (if not more) important than just listening to data.
Data without context is just noise, and without context our tools just provide us with vast swathes of meaningless data. Customer experience professionals can help organisations use digital tools to harness the power of the network by listening and learning from customer communities. But achieving this requires us to adopt a mindset where digital brings us closer to people, not just to data.