Delivering a great CX takes more than investing in leading-edge tools.

Rapid advances in digital technology have raised customer expectations dramatically. People want consistent, real-time, anytime service across a range of platforms, and they won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere if that’s not available from you. With buyer behaviours changing fast, organisations must be prepared for what audiences will expect in the future — and that means being able to deliver a true digital-first customer experience (CX).

A digital-first customer experience prioritises customers’ needs and satisfies them with automated solutions delivered digitally. According to a recent survey, 83% of global marketers have increased spending on digital marketing and customer experience tools over the past year, and 82% confirm that they’ve experienced positive ROI from these technology investments.

So digital first works — but it’s not as easy as buying the latest technology. To really deliver for their customers, organisations must first take some key steps toward a more fully optimised, digitally minded culture.

Step 1: Establish a collaborative culture from the start

To create a winning digital customer experience, all relevant channels need to be integrated in a single platform that streamlines business transactions and enables customer self-service. Accomplishing this is no small feat and typically involves addressing key internal obstacles, such as company culture, legacy systems and siloed departments and workflows.

Rather than accepting these challenges as ‘the way it is’, forward-thinking business leaders seek to unite teams with a shared understanding of how technology can deliver an enhanced customer experience. When IT and business stakeholders work together from the outset, they can better assess the company’s true needs and validate what is being delivered.

The starting point is for all stakeholders to commit to collaborating on the design and development of a seamless CX. Ideally, this should involve marketing, customer service, domain experts, data analysts and internal users across the supply chain — especially if complicated or unconnected processes are interrupting the CX flow.

Step 2: Adopt a fail-fast iterative approach

For a business to deliver a successful digital-first customer experience, it must be energised by technology. To achieve this, the company culture and environment should encourage the rapid development of solutions. Iteration of designs must be swift, with input from the business stakeholders across all sections of the value chain.

This efficient, user-centric approach helps lower the risk of delivering an over-provisioned solution with bloatware features that will never be needed. It’s a smarter way to effectively develop software, relying on a ‘fail fast, fail safe’ approach.

Step 3: Embrace the skills gap opportunity

Staying ahead of the curve on digital transformation requires an honest assessment of skill shortages. Organisations may need to explore different ways of filling those gaps and keeping their in-house skills up to date.

Many companies choose to blend their established IT team’s domain expertise with new ideas and skill sets from the outside. Onboarding the right external partner to work closely with internal teams can really accelerate development. By injecting new thinking from other industries and projects, these partners can help IT teams develop new skills and become more engaged, making them less likely to look for new opportunities elsewhere.

Step 4: Open up the tech stack

Technology sprawl can be another obstacle for digital transformation, particularly when an organisation is hamstrung by complex stacks and layers of outdated legacy technology. If a company is heavily invested in an existing stack and various system interfaces, it may be all but impossible to bypass it completely. However, if legacy pieces offer little value to the optimum solution, an expert team can find ways to work around them.

As customer needs and expectations evolve, organisations will need to keep an open mind about the technical approach and technology stack they use. At Nearform, we tend towards proven open-source stacks, modules and headless systems. We work with internal technology teams to build exactly what’s needed and collaborate on additional coding to accommodate user interface requirements.

Step 5: Drill the data gold mine

Data can turn a mediocre digital CX into a stellar one. Many organisations recognise this and are seeking solutions, skills and practical proven suggestions on how to harness customer data and analytics. However, many also have accumulated complex arrays of data sources over the years and don’t know how to use them to create meaningful value for the organisation or the customer.

The main problem with data used to be storage, but now it’s consolidation, analysis and visualisation. Taking a step back to consider desired outcomes, starting with the customer and what affects their experience most, can help teams transform unwieldy data challenges into usable tools. To that end, digital leaders need to make effective technology choices to aggregate the right data through the right platform to make it accessible and transparent.

Step 6: Start small to make a big impact

One way to initiate enterprise transformation is to use agile pilots to break down monolithic processes and business logic into modular elements for fast development and deployment.

An agile pilot provides the opportunity to test the appetite and capability of a small unit. It works best if the team involved is not interdependent on other teams, delivers a measurable output and has a throughput problem that needs addressing. If the people involved are prepared to try new ways of doing things, it could be the key to creating a digital-first customer experience from the bottom up.

For optimal results, companies should work with a partner who has the expertise in discovery workshops and rapid prototyping to get their next project off to the best start. Such a partner will set you on a design journey that allows you to rapidly build prototypes that can be iterated and developed with real user feedback.

Culture is the key

To create a digital-first customer experience, technology is not the first thing organisations need to consider. A risk-tolerant, fail-fast approach to meeting customers’ needs quickly and consistently should be the priority. This involves shaping the right culture and attitude towards IT across the organisation — and ensuring key stakeholders see progress and are included early in the process.

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