Customer Experience Takes the IT Department by Storm

As a visitor to this site, you likely think about the customer experience on a daily basis. However, chances are, you used to be one of a few in your company who lived and breathed that concept. At most organizations, customer experience was something only the customer care team and marketing department worried about; most other people had probably never heard the term or would vaguely guess that it was some new, touchy-feely marketing concept that didn't impact their work.

Well, those days are long gone, because today customer experience is something that is being discussed intensely in boardrooms across every industry. As products and services in virtually every industry face commoditization, customer experience is increasingly becoming a beacon of differentiation. And that is leading to organization-wide customer experience initiatives that are reshaping every aspect of customer interactions with any company, from the pre-sale phase to product delivery to technical support to the long-term, ongoing nurturing of the customer relationship.

Technology is at the heart of many of these customer-driven initiatives regardless of the industry: accounting, equipment manufacturing, retail, legal services, food and beverage, and others. The technical requirements of these projects call for customer care and marketing team members who live and breathe customer experience to collaborate with technology team members who might only be hearing about it for the first time.

CIOs, IT directors, and IT team members who in the past were not directly involved in customer experience initiatives are now being asked to make it one of their top technology priorities and to engage in a range of projects to support departments across their companies. This is no minor trend: Forrester Research recently reported that nearly three-quarters of IT decision makers are now being asked to make customer experience a critical priority. That is a lot of CIOs and IT directors suddenly getting a crash course in how to think like customer care and marketing professionals.

The technology challenges that come with customer experience initiatives are complex for every size company, but the degree of difficulty can be particularly high for the nearly 200,000 mid-market companies in the United States for a number of reasons. Mid-sized companies don't have the deep pockets that large businesses have, and they tend to be underserved by technology providers as a result. Mid-sized companies also tend to have an abundance of legacy IT assets that they have held onto and kept running through a tremendous amount of care and attention, not out of nostalgia, but out of practicality. The prevalence of legacy technology is a particularly stark issue for mid-market companies embarking on customer experience initiatives, given that many of the tasks the company wants to undertake for customers simply aren't possible with aging systems.

One of the places where the limitations of legacy technology become painfully apparent is in the contact center, which takes many forms in mid-market companies, ranging from formal call centers to informal groups of people who collaborate across departmental lines in roles such as customer care, tech support, and inside sales. Regardless of what exact shape a contact center takes, the common thread across the mid-market is that most companies are likely using a patchwork of outdated, on-premises software to manage customer interactions. Those systems were already under stress before the customer experience concept caught fire, and the problems are exacerbated under the new demands of these customer care initiatives, which involve more incoming calls, more proactive calls, live chat, email interactions, social media communications, and more. The older systems in place also fail to provide the analytics that companies need to evaluate and measure the success of their customer experience initiatives, making it a double whammy.

Questions for Setting a CCaaS Strategy

All of these factors often lead companies rolling out customer experience programs to do so with the implementation of new contact center infrastructure that has checkmarks next to everything on the company's wish list. The simplest and most cost-effective way to upgrade this infrastructure is usually with a contact center as a solution (CCaaS) that uses web-based technologies to simplify and accelerate the implementation in a clean transition away from legacy technology.

It is critical to keep in mind, though, that no two mid-market CCaaS implementations are the same because no two mid-market companies are the same. Their needs vary widely because of differences in corporate structures, budgets, customer care strategies, and more. A one-size-fits-all approach to CCaaS simply won't work for the mid-market, and companies should be wary of any tech provider or consultant that tries to sell an in-a-box solution that tries to be all things to all companies.

A CCaaS strategy should be customized, and the best way to begin the process is by asking some probing questions. There's no way to fit an exhaustive list into a column of this length, but below are a number of key questions your organization should ask to create the right plan and end up with a solution that will work now and into the future:

  • Have you created a truly collaborative process between the marketing department, the customer care team, and the IT team to optimize the design of the CCaaS implementation and align it with your customer experience goals?
  • Will the CCaaS be able to scale up and down to respond to spikes in demand, such as heavy call traffic at a certain time of day or heavy customer service activity around the holidays?
  • Do you have a network that can support the kinds of functions that your CCaaS will have, including bandwidth-intensive applications?
  • Are there certain regulatory requirements that your CCaaS implementation needs to address?
  • Is your CCaaS plan being mapped out, not only with normal operations in mind, but also with consideration for crisis situations where there might be a surge of incoming and outgoing communications?
  • What kind of reporting and metrics will the leadership team want to see going forward to evaluate the success of the customer experience initiative?
  • How flexible will the CCaaS system need to be to adapt to changes to your measurement and reporting process?
  • How does the CCaaS system integrate with the organization's overall unified communications system, and will it allow the level of collaboration that is critical for this new brand of customer care?
  • Especially if your contact center has multiple shifts, will you have to pay a subscription fee for every single individual agent that is configured to use the system, or can you leverage a subscription model that is based on active agents over a period of time?

These are questions that cannot be answered by the customer care team or the marketing team or the IT team alone. The process requires a collaborative discussion that mirrors the way customer experience initiatives cross all boundaries within an organization. In this way, not only is the IT team stepping out of its comfort zone by embracing the customer experience concept, but every department that collaborates with IT on these implementations needs to do the same by helping to tackle complex technology issues that were once solely the domain of the folks down the hall in IT. Having so many people collaborating across departmental lines and stepping out of their comfort zones in the process is a surefire sign that you are tackling customer experience in the right way.

Austin Herrington is senior director of product management at Windstream Business, which provides data, voice, network, and cloud solutions to large enterprises and mid-sized businesses. In this role, Herrington manages Windstream’s CCaaS and UCaaS solutions. He can be reached at