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What is this so called 'Age of the Customer?'

Thu 1 Sep 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

CEOs cite “Customer Experience” as a topic objective for 2016 and 2017. Now that Big Data has faded as a hype engine, giving way to yet more techno-fueled targets like Device Meshes and Ambient User Experiences, CIOs are in a greater bind than ever. Not that there is any anxiety. The best response I have heard this year from a CIO was in regard to meeting the ambitious growth targets set for the company, a visionary in drip irrigation, who said, “I am never anxious about any of the issues facing me.” What made it the best comment of 2016 from an IT leader is that, in the end, it’s just a job. We do our best and then turn our attention to other parts of our lives. Bracing response, but perhaps refreshing. But what about a bit of sympathy towards the plight of the customer? Is any of your technology helping create a better environment for the customer? Take “Ambient User Experiences” for example: who would not want our experiences with a business to be continuous across devices, locations, the humans you interact with, and captured for personal analytics?

Well, maybe all that device meshes will achieve is upset the customer more profoundly, as the disappointment cascades across devices and over time. Here is a classic example: several weeks ago a colleague flew in to the US from somewhere in the Pacific to LA on a prominent US carrier that has spent billions of dollars on upgrading infrastructure and IT. Unbeknownst to my colleague, flying in Business Class, (with other members of his family in Coach-class / Economy), the connecting flight Los Angeles – NY was cancelled. The flight had WIFI, and the crew had access to the cancellation information, but did nothing with it. It was not a part of their brief. But it gets more interesting. Upon landing, the first text he receives is from the airline: Flight cancelled. You are booked on our next flight.

Terrific, right? It would be, except: what about the rest of the family? They are not premier, and they are not Platinum, or whatever the top frequent flyer level is with them. The records are not linked. And by the time Platinum guy with 4,000,000 miles with the airline gets to the front of the customer service line, surly agent is in full fury because of the long line of tired and frustrated travelers. Sympathy? No. Passengers are expected to be cheery and polite. OK. The agent points out that these are TWO parties, not one, on two separate records. Yes, because there was no way to join a ‘business’ trip record with the others – no system exists to do this with the airline.

This is a boring story, eh? You KNOW the postscript: The family was put on standby, but as they had no high status, they dropped from #1/2/3 on the list to # 5/6/7 on the oversold flight. Everyone slept in a remote hotel, far from the airport. The airline offered nothing in the way of money for the hotel, because the family did not wait to ‘officially’ be bumped from standby and get to sleep at 3AM and rise at 4AM. Do you believe that there is anything the airline will ever do to restore trust? (post-postscript: no response to his email response to a satisfaction survey from the airline).

Ah: and then at 5:30AM the next morning, my friend discovered that they had given away his Business Class ticket for the morning flight because he had ‘given up’ his earlier flight.

Before you conclude that this pitiful Data Analytics and Process Optimisation happens only to airlines, last month I received an offer for a Gold Card from a credit card company with which I already have a Platinum Card. Ah – you want me to pay you less?

Or: I took out a Credit Card with a hotel brand, and my other Card carrier has apparently not noticed that now my monthly spend/bill is only 50% of what I have billed the past five years. No pattern detection? No outreach?

Or: my friend has a business loan on his buildings where he is a high-tech manufacturer, and mortgage rates on the buildings dropped sufficiently that a re-finance would be highly beneficial to him. Any notice from the bank?

It would be simple to continue the list another two pages, but the point is: we in business fail again and again and again to understand the customer. Yes, it is the age when the customer understands which businesses care and which do not, but we are not to the point where the CIO and the CEO are sitting with Sales and Marketing and Customer Support to understand the specifics of why they delight, or fail to delight, customers.

No degree of adherence to the latest technology trends will erase the lose of trust engendered by poor customer process management. Maybe this is the age when we finally demonstrate that we ‘listen to the customer?’

Article by Michael Maoz, Gartner blog network

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