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Customer experience wins—that happens when IT and Operations align

Customer Experience (CX) has been highlighted again and again as one of the most important growth areas and challenges for businesses as we move into 2021. Customers are increasingly demanding experiences, not just service. They want to partner with companies that know them, understand them and respond to them, before they even know what they need themselves.

With expectations like these, the only way to deliver is through a digital approach. Consequently, as cloud technology and data driven revolutions drive changes across business departments, the need for IT and operations to more closely align so as to move the dial on CX is becoming an imperative.

This includes building infrastructure that supports access from anywhere, operational continuity and ensuring stability through an ongoing focus on modernising core systems and a move to the cloud. All of this requires IT and operations working with a more collective mindset.

Jeffrey Hewitt, research vice president at Gartner, says: “Specifically, there is a shift in focus from infrastructure roles towards collective, critical skills. This challenges the traditional ‘territorial’ thinking of belonging to a specific infrastructure team and instead encourages collaboration.”

By 2022, infrastructure and operations leaders can expect to plan for at least 12 high-priority skills in their organisations. Mr Hewitt says now is the critical time for companies to consider making the fundamental changes to their culture and structure to get ahead of the emerging trends shaping IT, infrastructure and operations.

Therefore, if making real shifts in CX is considered imperative, this means moving away from the traditional silos of departments to working with cross-functional teams that are data driven, cloud technology savvy and solutions focused.

COVID-19 and the move to more flexible work structures has also pushed a rapid change to deploying business services virtually.  Virtual teams and the shakeup of traditional operational silos have also opened opportunities for companies to recruit and employ staff from anywhere.

Growth focused organisations everywhere are creating dynamic, project driven teams that build on the strengths of marketing, IT, strategy and operations staff.

Of course, changing the very heart of company structures requires buy-in and often a dramatic restructure of teams across management and service areas—a challenge that some companies have embraced with great results.

IT now has the opportunity to become the driver of change

IT staff are moving out from behind the screens of traditional support roles such as network setup and maintenance and are increasingly advocating technology to drive solutions and strategy.  Far from being a threat to jobs and an outsourcing of skills, this shift provides IT teams with opportunities to shape their roles within businesses’ operations, upskill and be a part of the larger purpose of the organisation.

Being part of CX projects also creates opportunities to develop in-demand skills, such as learning agility, critical thinking, technology, leadership, team work, communication and problem solving. Shifting from role-based thinking to multi-skill based teams not only improves employee support of the change process, but brings together insights and experiences from across the organisation to improve the business’ CX.

Focusing on business outcomes, not task driven results, enhances CX

One company that is managing competing demands as they create cross-functional teams driven by CX improvements is Avast. After acquiring virtual private network provider, HMA, the team quickly realised there were going to be significant challenges to turning around the fortunes of the company. They started a process of in-depth auditing of the customer experience and the current state of the business. What this process highlighted was that the customer’s experience was lacking across several areas—including retention, attracting new customers and the onboarding procedures.

One of the key success drivers for this Avast project was a shift to cross functional teams. Led by the management team who set the required business outcomes, each cross-functional team was then given the support and resources to deliver and implement the changes in the tech and marketing departments.

By thinking outside the box when it came to strategic implementation, Avast was able to create more impact within a short space of time.  Clear communication and an evidence-driven strategy meant that the project was able to stay on track and had buy-in from all key stakeholders. For example, by linking strategies back to the business model and strategic plan for the company, they were able to see that ongoing issues such as an inflexible cancellation policy could be easily addressed by offering a free trial before sign-up; thereby avoiding cancellations and negative reviews.

Think like a start-up when it comes to CX

Similarly, building a cross-functional team that can innovate, test and deploy digital transformation rapidly was essential for the digital transformation of CarMax. The used car retailer has transformed the car-buying experience to an omnichannel shopping experience that prioritises convenience and customer service by embracing start-up models of thinking and working. Starting its transformation well before COVID-19 hit, CarMax was prepared to quickly jump into digital shopping—including contactless car shopping, inspections and home delivery.   

The key to being able to innovate and adapt quickly came from having already united staff from areas across the business, like finance, marketing, IT, customer service and operations. These teams had already been working on projects that tapped into the heart of customer needs and demands and had foreseen the digital revolution of shopping in other sectors. By getting ahead of the eCommerce trends, when COVID-19 hit, they were able to step into the gap left by social distancing and lockdowns.

When it comes to product innovations, CarMax has been able to meet the needs of customers by giving them a seamless car-buying process, from in person to fully digital.  By modernising its core digital platforms from the inside out, it has been able to streamline processes such as used car appraisals and include home delivery options for test-drives.

A move to a product team model meant shifting IT staff out of siloed departments, and making them an essential part of each team. By changing the KPIs of IT staff from output to meeting business operational goals, CarMax was also able to shift the thinking from top-down directives to finding the best solutions for the needs of the customer.

SaaS businesses succeed when they focus on the ‘service’

For service-based companies like Gusto, a payroll business located in the USA, providing a service ‘is more than a transactional relationship’.  As Cofounder and CEO of Gusto, Joshua Reeves recently recounted, creating a business that solves problems and makes it easy to outsource solutions is essential to success. One of the biggest struggles it helps solve for organisations is the ability to stay on top of their HR responsibilities quickly and easily.

By bringing in multi-skilled staff members from different industries and backgrounds, Gusto was able to combine technology solutions and new ways of working. Going back to the essentials of quality customer experiences, it focused on the end goals; in this case, the joy of getting paid and taking the stress away from inhouse HR teams.

As Gusto grew, it quickly saw the challenges of building compliant software that had to allow for the enormous amount of legislation around payroll and taxation. Gusto used an agile approach to grow. Combining customer focused specialists with software developers enabled both to work more collaboratively to design, test and implement small projects, so that they were able to be more responsive to customer needs and quickly build in updates as required.

Including IT teams in the CX change process means better experiences for customers

As the three examples above show, building cross functional teams with IT staff on board in both the strategy and change building stages mean organisations can quickly adapt new services and software.

As we adjust to the post-pandemic environment, it will be more important than ever for organisations to take stock of their IT, infrastructure and operations structures and make the necessary changes to ensure they are not going to be left behind.  In particular, moving to online and flexible work environments, modernising infrastructure so that it supports the growing data and communication needs, plus having a clear plan to move to shifting skill requirements as all these are rolled out.

Each of these organisations embraced radical re-thinking of how their IT and business teams worked, with smaller, project-based teams that included staff from cross-functional areas of the business. Moving IT staff out of service and quota-based roles can give organisations the freedom and flexibility to find better solutions to customer needs and concerns.