Transforming customer experience
Back to the future
The last 12 months has seen a massive acceleration of the effort to digitise every kind of customer service and experience.d
With stores and offices closed, and access to public buildings restricted or downright risky, the chase has been on to replace in-person experiences with safe, fast and efficient digital ones.
But digital-first services can and should be so much more than a second hand experience. Born-in-the-cloud businesses – which run pretty lean and in any case rarely have the opportunity to put a human in front of another human – have done much innovating and exciting work. Playing to their strengths of choice, price and immediacy, they often find ways to add touches of humanity and personality to the experience.
So in this article we’re going to leverage Gamma’s own digital transformation journey towards a re-invented customer experience. We’ll share our insights from the last three years of planning, preparation and implementation. We’re going to argue that businesses like ours – we’re essentially a ‘people-to-people business’ – have a great opportunity to blend the best of digital and in-person customer experiences. And we’re going to preview the launch of our new digital customer experience – Communities.
Digital-first services can and should be so much more than a second hand experience…
Fixing a rocket in flight
Talking of launches…
If you’re not a born-in-the-cloud business, digital transformation can feel like fixing a space rocket in flight…
You might feel you’ve already got the first two stages of the rocket built. You’ve got a suite of products and services – that’s a first stage. And you’ve got live customers and customer experiences – the second stage. The temptation might be to strap a new digital final stage to the top. However this could be your first and biggest mistake.
In the old world if product, processes and people didn’t quite join up, chances were that a dedicated and expert employee could just work a bit harder to make things fit. But in the digital world that kind of workaround is a chancy business.
During the Apollo 13 moon mission the main spacecraft was disabled by a catastrophic loss of oxygen…
The three astronauts were left with no choice but to use the lunar landing module (LM) as a lifeboat. Trouble was that the LM was a two person craft, and the crew had to find a way to scrub carbon dioxide from their air supply or die. Using duct tape, plastic covers cannibalised from flight manuals, and other odds and sods they managed to adapt the damaged command module’s larger scrubbers for the LM’s systems. Now at one level this is a story of heroic survival.
At another, a cautionary tale about the shortcomings of improvisation on the move. Apollo 13 never landed on the Moon. And if you asked astronauts Lovell, Swigert or Haise, I’m pretty sure they’d have said that as customer experiences go, it sucked.
So upgrading the launch stages, guidance and life support systems on your rocket could all have big upsides. How else do you boldly go where no one has gone before? But improvisation isn’t an option, and failure could be catastrophic.
We started our transformation journey three years ago, and the year we’ve just come through has only emphasised just how important it is to get it done, but also to get it right. Here’s what we’ve learned.
To move forward on a digital transformation, you’ve got to get back to the bare essentials, and plan carefully. You can start by asking three basic questions…
1. What business are we in?
2. What does our customer need from that business?
3. Are those two things fully aligned?
The first question is easy, right?
Well, it depends on the question you ask…
Ask 20 people ‘What do we do?’ and you’ll probably get 20 good but quite different answers. Ask 20 people ‘How do we do what we do?’ and the chances are that things will start to clarify.
Try again with: What difference do we want to make for our customers? That gets you away from the minutiae and towards that handful of things that customers really value you for. The stuff that makes them happy to keep paying you.
That line of questioning also starts the shift to the client centric view – the all-important outside-in perspective.
Q. Do I pay Cadbury’s for the chocolate inside the wrapper, or the smile it puts on my face?
A. Cadbury sells happiness. Every element of their customer experience needs to be amplifying that.
What does our customer need from us right now?
Like a lot of successful businesses, Gamma has grown through a mix of organic innovation, strong partnerships, and acquisition of both technology and knowhow.
So the “what business are we in” process took some working out. We’re a tech business. We’re an integration business. We’re a very people-centric professional services business. We’re all of those things and more. But we got there.
On the question of what do customers want from us: Gamma has always been very open and accessible to customers. We don’t have IVR systems for instance. And the broader experience from first contact with sales people and solution architects through implementation and roll-out is all about people understanding people, sharing a wavelength, taking responsibility, and adding value at every turn.
That’s the ‘smile on the face’ bit. We express it as ‘Feel Connected’. And that’s what our digital experience can build on.
Customer expectations for a new digital experience stated that it should:
- Be transparent
- Give them visibility over processes and services
- Allow them to steer and make interventions
- Know how to escalate a problem and that a resolution would be swift and accurate
- Provide access to expertise and learning both from the company and the broader community
A single version of the truth
A digital mess is still a mess
It’s nearly impossible to create valuable, common customer experiences when different areas of your business have grown in different ways, at different rates, and therefore evolved different solutions for making stuff happen.
We began our journey with multiple sales, provisioning and support teams. They followed different escalation paths, to different executive teams. We had two CRM systems and two ticketing systems, for instance. Fixing that would clearly create a lot of work, and it was tempting to try and just work around it.
But the big learning point was not to focus on the here-and-now, but on desired future outcomes. We were playing the long game and the most important decision we took was to make the time to create a ‘single version of the truth’. That requires everything from ambitions, outcomes, processes, systems and values common.
Another insight – coming directly from the outside-in perspective I talked about earlier – is that customers take a different view of ‘product’ to vendors and sales channels. Take a collaboration solution as an example. Is the ‘product’ UCaaS (the techy view), or networking (the systems view) or onboarding (the professional services view) or break/fix (the support view).
Answer: the product is the overall capability, which is greater than the sum of the parts. And that means that value comes not only from the individual functions, but especially from the overlap between them.
Don’t ever be tempted to think that digital processes can somehow compensate for broken ones. A digital mess is still a mess. But with efficient processes and systems underpinning, digitisation becomes a win-win. Customers gain engagement, visibility and control.
The business gets to deploy its expertise more efficiently, downshifting the gearing between scale, headcount and happy customers.
This is the moment we stand back from our keyboards, take a deep breath, and ask our customers to tell us what they think.
It’s been quite a journey, but we’ve reached a major milestone with the launch of Communities, our new digital customer experience. Maybe you’re a customer, but if not, just use your imagination a little. On entry you will be able to take in, at one glance, the latest information on your most important business with us.
Service status updates will grab the eye immediately, so you’ll know if any challenges you’re dealing with relate to any problems we already know about.
The Your Orders area gives you instant information about the what, where and when. And in line with our insight that ‘the value lies in the overlap’ it also links you to all relevant case details. This is the big picture, rich in context, and also where you communicate directly with the people involved with making it all happen.
Adjacent and complementary to Your Orders is the Cases area. Cases is the broad-brush language for any kind of action you want to initiate, influence, comment on, or escalate. All in one place.
That means change requests, fault reporting, orders and more. Ultimately this is where you get to take some realtime control of our actions and your outcomes.
This is Version 1, and we’re inviting you to be as curious, creative and challenging as you can be. We’ll be listening and learning, and we’re committed to take the time to understand all of the feedback you can give us. As we said at the top of this article – ultimately it’s customers’ opinions that matters most.
To boldly go...
We’re not stopping here, of course…d
The in-person experience at Gamma is right at the heart of who we are. It’s also the most cited reason why customers choose to work with us, and stay for the long term.
The fundamental changes we’ve made in streamlining our systems and processes – getting to that single version of the truth – will benefit those person-to-person encounters just as much.
And by giving customers more direct visibility and control through digital channels, it allows those in-person exchanges to reflect more added value, through innovation, expertise and experience. And we can make that more accessible and everyday too.
So after a pause to test and learn we’ve plans to add expert knowledge alongside the operational detail. We see this as a collaboration between us and you – ‘we’ know more than ‘me’. That can encompass technical and service knowledge, and also expert ‘how-to’ and application best practice guides, for instance.
Beyond that, we’ve ambitions to add a vibrant live forum, where we can mingle our expertise and experiences, and provide less formal pathways to ‘feel connected’.