For business, customer data is as valuable as gold. But in many companies this gold is scattered across silos, waiting for its miners. I interviewed the top management of Finnish companies about the possibilities of utilising customer data. What kind of cooperation did these business leaders expect from their IT?

How well does your company utilise customer data in developing and growing its business? If you answer that you utilise it really well, you are a rare pioneer. In the majority of Finnish companies, customer data lies as untapped potential, fragmented into different systems. As an interviewee pointed out:

“We have channel-specific silos. We don’t have a completely transparent view of the customer path. We just see our own part and earmark it. There is no transparency as to whether the customer noticed us at point A, interacted with us at B, and made a purchase at C. So, when discussing system challenges, the customer path is definitely in the spotlight.”

Fortunately, times are changing. Businesses seem to be eager to invest in solutions that offer customer data better visibility. The same issues are being actively addressed around the world. Adobe and Salesforce recently announced their plans to integrate their marketing and customer service platforms to make customer data utilisation smoother.

I have also heard enthusiastic feedback from CIOs saying that systems connected with customer data management are finally beginning to develop in such a way that they are worth the investment!

When it comes to top-notch data literacy, the role of information management is extremely important. Now the business department are eager to have data scientists join their teams. With the help of data, customer experience management should now move from reactive to proactive action.

What do customer experience managers expect from information management?

Many of the customer experience managers I interviewed said that cooperation with IT works well. This was especially the case when digital development had been brought closer to business from the basic IT.

These kinds of hopes for information management were expressed:

  1. Extensiveness, managing the big picture

The business side hopes that information management is able to see the big picture of the customer experience. Customer behaviour is evolving and becoming more complex, and technology choices need to be based on customers. It is necessary to consider the different stages of customer relationships and the service channels related to transactions. One of my interviewees commented that for example in application development, no one in IT should stare narrowly at just their own application, but think more broadly about how their own part relates to the whole.

Here’s an excerpt from the interviews: “Architecture should also be built based on customer experience, even if this is difficult. A structure of customer experience should be built on top of the architecture, which ensures that everything that is done in front of the customer, through the jungle that everyday life is, is well taken care of.”

  1. Fostering purchasing skills and insight

In my interviews, business leaders especially talked about data and the importance of purchasing expertise related to it. The better you know how to buy, the better projects will be emerged. Data development is also sold directly to the business, but the business values ​​its own information management know-how and wants a view of its own field.

One of my interviewees said that it was a pity to have to look for a partner outside the company to exploit the data – he would preferably have chosen the partner from his own organisation’s information management. This, of course, was understandable, he said, as it is hard work to keep up with the development of data-related competencies.

Another excerpt from the interviews: “It is clear that many development measures need to be implemented through IT. This is a new thing for the IT people, too. They will need a lot of constructive sparring, what technology is needed in the background, and how do the capabilities in-house match that need? It may be that we are missing capabilities, especially in IT.”

  1. Close cooperation and dialogue with business

Many of my respondents were pleased with the way the dialogue with information management has developed. They hope that the co-operation will continue to develop and that IT administrations will give the business even more proposals and information on the possibilities of technology. When it comes to dialogue, it is important to use language that is understood by both parties. This is where IT managers have a great opportunity to “sell” their own expertise to the business! All data-related cases are now of huge interest to the business decision-makers.

Here we have an excerpt from the interviews: “I wouldn’t put information management and business against each other. I feel like we’re in the same boat and we have our common must win battles. They should understand modern data solutions.”

  1. Embedding customer-centric thinking

Customer-centric thinking does not arise by itself or on command. In large organisations, there are many who work far from customer interfaces, but who nevertheless must understand customer needs. So you need to find ways to foster and clarify customer-centric thinking.

One of my interviewees talked about a successful way to open the eyes of application developers to the customer perspective: developers were involved in meeting the customers so they heard the needs directly from them. One believes better what one experiences first-hand! Therefore, simulations and co-development methods provide good ways to establish customer-centric thinking.

Again, an excerpt from the interviews: “When it comes to defining requirements, our customer is the one whose requirements we should think about above all!”

  1. Agility and rapidness

To put it bluntly: change is never as slow as it is today. In all development work it must be possible to anticipate where the market is going and how customers will behave in the future. The business does not want to get stuck with systems that served the needs of customers in a past world.

While rapidness is essential, you should not confuse it with hurrying or uncontrollability. Processes and operating models need to be well thought out and defined, and IT management surely has some experiences to share about that.

An excerpt from my interviews: “Agility and staying up to date should be priorities for IT management. There is no point in doing it slowly, because after each iteration you have to ask the customer and validate the solution.”

Could IT guide customer experience management towards systematic thinking?

I also had a fruitful discussion about this topic with the CIO of a large Finnish organisation. Together, we concluded that customer experience is such a broad concept that, in large companies, it needs a management and governance model. In this, information management can show business the direction!

I see that the management practices and operating models of modern IT management would have answers in how the management and development of the customer experience could be taken forward. There is much in the systematic practices of IT management from which the world of sales and customer service, accustomed to more creative styles, could learn.

In any case, a business model based on customer experience can only succeed through a collaboration between business and technology. An ever growing share of the customer experiences is being created digitally. For a real change to take place, processes need to be redesigned from production-oriented to customer-oriented. And no change is possible unless the cornerstone is formed by the people.

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About the author:

Liisi Koivu works as Senior Advisor in the Sofigate’s Customer Experience & Interaction area. She is an expert in customer experience management. She helps to bring customer orientation into management practices, marketing, sales and account management processes and business technology design.

Liisi Koivu

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