The term API – Application Programming Interface – refers to the set of communication protocols or rules which allow an application to access the features of, or data contained in, another operating system or program.
APIs can make it possible for companies to build rich and accurate profiles of their customers by aggregating data about them from multiple computer systems, inside and outside the enterprise.
That information gathering is key to the creation of the high-quality customer experiences Australian consumers are coming to expect and demand from every organisation with which they do business.
Why customer experience really is king
Remember when customer experience meant asking the occasional person to complete a tick and flick questionnaire about the product or service they'd received and filing the results for ‘analysis' sometime down the track?
Those days are gone for good and all. Digital behemoths such as Amazon and Google have made the lackadaisical approach a dangerous one to choose, by turning customer experience into a veritable art form within their organisations.
Smaller players which don't follow their lead by using digital technologies to develop connections and inspire loyalty will struggle, as customers collectively defect to businesses which are prepared to do more to surprise and delight them.
Management consultancy PwC refers to the emergence of what it has christened the ‘intelligent experience economy'.
In today's rapidly evolving digital business landscape, companies which merely offer good and convenient service will find themselves falling below the bar.
Businesses are increasingly being judged by their ability to create valuable customer experiences at speed and many will need to re-engineer their processes significantly in order to compete.
The challenge is compounded by the fact that they need to do so via multiple points of interaction, including voice, email, mobile applications, the web and chatbots.
Many companies fall down on this front. Their disjointed relationship channels can result in regular customers being treated as first-time buyers if they approach the business from a new channel or touch point.
Having to retrace the history of past interactions, or supply previously disclosed information for a second or third time because the company's systems don't link up behind the scenes, doesn't inspire confidence – or compliments – from buyers.
Being able to synchronise data between channels and cross-reference data related to customers' history with a brand is only possible if back-end solutions ‘talk' to each other continually. An API strategy can ensure they do. It's necessary for businesses to pursue one, if customers are to experience consistent and seamless service, regardless of the channel they choose to use.
An API strategy can also assist marketers to enhance the customer experience by pulling together insights which enable them to anticipate and respond to consumer wants and needs, rather than merely reacting to them.
Opening the gateway to better experiences
APIs are the gateway between companies and their business data. But although there's growing appreciation for the fact that superlative customer experiences almost invariably have data as their bedrock, many companies have yet to implement an API strategy.
There are considerable advantages to doing so.
Meaningful digital transformation and the migration of core systems to the cloud this is likely to entail are more likely to be executed successfully if enterprises are clear about the customer insights they seek to obtain.
Determining how systems and applications will need to be linked in order to harvest those insights is the logical next step.
That means developing an API strategy to ensure potentially valuable information is no longer siloed in standalone software solutions but can flow freely between systems and applications.
Taking API action
The age of customer experience is already upon us and the signs are it won't end any time soon. In fact, the reverse. The superlative experiences delivered as the standard by digital native companies will see customer expectations continue to rise. Australian companies which don't harness the power of APIs to meet and exceed them may find themselves flat-footed and irrecoverably behind the competition.