Digital Transformation & Customer Experience – Separated at Birth, Reunited by a Common Purpose


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Do try this at home. Pick two or three of your favourite and most used smartphone or device apps, such as those provided by airlines, banks, hotels or retail organizations.  The best examples will be where you need to create or login to an account, and/or authenticate via a user name and password. Then if you are able to find an icon for “help” or “contact us”, see what happens. In almost all cases when I do this, I get a list of phone numbers, often premium rate 084x numbers, or an email form that asks me for my name, email address and other information that should be available via the data that I’ve already entered, or is on file. Rarely if ever is there an option to be directly connected, and identified, to a customer service person via phone or web-chat. Consequently, despite my “status” I’m just another faceless, nameless number in the queue waiting anonymously for “How can I help?”, when it could be “Hello Mr. Brown, can I help with your order?”

Did you get the memo?

I do this on a regular basis in the vain hope that the companies I patronize on a regular basis, some of whom are actually quite good, will have got the memo about how everyone that’s anyone in the customer experience (CX) world is providing their customers with a joined up, personal,  consistent, seamless Omni-channel experience. In case you think it’s not on many people’s minds, I Googled “Seamless Experience”, which is simply defined as, customers seek an expert reply, in real-time, and through the channel of their choice. I got 2.3 million hits many entitled “How to Deliver a Seamless Customer Experience Across Digital Channels”.  Which suggested more than a passing interest.

You can also carry out a similar experiment via your desktop PC.  Start by logging in to internet banking, your on-line retailer or book a flight with the “World’s Favourite Airline”, (alright I made that last one up, nobody bothers with them anymore!).  Then once logged in and authenticated, contact them to see if they can synchronize your online instance with the phone call or web-chat session.  No, I didn’t think so.

There are some companies whose digital path seems more perfectly formed, even if providing that joined up experience isn’t quite there. Companies such as Vodafone, Groupama, Amazon and some of the other usual digitally mature suspects, have some interesting and CX friendly app capabilities that pretty much do what they say on the tin. So it’s not as if the technology doesn’t exist. And when you see the “shiny new toys” demos from the technology companies, this type of joined up journey and connectivity will often feature large in their presentations.

For many businesses digital capabilities seems to be developed in isolation, in a dark room and without input from customers or front line colleagues. And for them, having a sexy app, whizzy web-site or a chat bot called Gladys is the height of digital sophistication. But if they can’t quickly and easily reach into a digital filing cabinet to access key information about me and my contact history that can provide context, relevance and personalization, then they’re as much use as a handbrake on a canoe. But, as I’m ever the optimist, it’s still a start and we just need to get the right people together in the same (preferably not dark) room.

What’s this queue for?

As with those seeking an audience with various oracles to discover “The Meaning of Life”, there appears to be similar queues forming to learn more about the meaning of digital transformation (DT) and customer experience (CX). But who exactly is lining up? And are they in the right queue? The received wisdom appears to be that for DT they will be IT people in the technology company queue. For CX, they will be various marketing and customer service types going to CX conferences and webinars. Or possibly even listening to, or reading, the rants and blogs of CX practitioners!

Whichever it is, I think that they’re both in the wrong places and they certainly shouldn’t be there alone. While many of us in various scenarios are urged to “get out more” I’d suggest the opposite is true for DT & CX evangelists and seekers of truth. Staying home, or in the office, and meeting and sharing ideas with like-minded colleagues from across the business will be far more gratifying, cost effective and ultimately lead to DT & CX success. Don’t just take my word for it.  IDC’s recent Digital Transformation report suggests that 70% of DT initiatives will ultimately fail because of insufficient collaboration, integration, sourcing or project management.

Sharing the Caring & Joint Parenting

With many people seeking guidance and redemption on both DT & CX, there are a number of high level and not necessarily new ideas and lessons to be shared.  I’ve certainly spotlighted these in previous blogs and that I’m pleased to see that have been validated by companies successfully aligning the DT and CX initiatives.

There is clearly strong consensus and no apparent C-level debate about the validity and importance of a digital and CX agenda. However, it’s less clear how to establish the priorities and to agree on where to start. Marketing, sales, customer service, e-commerce and others will all state the case for “me first.” These conflicting ambitions and opinions can put the brakes on any digital transformation project before its left the station, as organizational turf wars break out and digital hype goes into overdrive.

To successfully traverse this potential mine field and keep their constituents happy, organizations must adopt a digital experience framework and integration mind-set and capability closely aligned to the CX strategy. That starts with the customers in mind.

This includes removing internal silos that can hold back customer experience efforts, which has been a key initiative for Maryam Banikarim, Global CMO of Hyatt Hotels. In a recent Market Week interview she said “We work in a much more integrated fashion than we used to before. Once you focus on the customer versus yourself there is no other way to operate. When you’re purely focused on who you’re serving, it forces all the other pieces to come together.”

Organizational Engagement is more than a marriage of convenience

There is a lot of positive noise about the importance of customer and employee engagement, and with good reason. These are key planks in building a successful customer experience stage and putting on a great performance. But there is another piece of the foundation that is becoming increasingly more valuable in supporting the overall strategy and in particular aligning DT & CX:  that is Organizational Engagement. To successfully engage employees, provide customers with an outstanding experience and create a high performance culture, businesses need to be fully aligned and develop organizational engagement that is more than just lip service or a hastily contrived, tactical shotgun marriage between departments.

One of the key areas that this type of engagement will address is the idea that “everything”, or every touch point, must be digitally enabled. Clearly at the start I mentioned a couple of specific use cases and for me, as a customer, those are important capabilities that would make my experience a far better one. While it’s natural to think that by making every channel available to every customer every time is a guarantee of success, it may not be true. It may be a realistic long term objective, but an unnecessary and expensive choice initially. But by truly understanding customer needs and colleague pain points, we can determine the best places to offer digital capabilities now and where they can wait until more evidence of the value is demonstrated. But whatever we decide to do we still have to enable it.

Technology’s the answer, now what was the question?

Even as the prodigals begin to catch up after their separation and start to build a strong familial relationship, there’s still another uncomfortable truth that needs to be addressed. “Can we talk about Technology?” Because even if there is consensus on the “why” and the “where”, it’s the “how” and the “when”, and the perceived cost of digital technology, and the time to deploy, that threatens to break up the party. In many cases companies are finding that the integration with myriad back-end legacy systems is a pain point that can deprive them of the business value of digital services. Often the digital journey begins with a desire to smoothly and quickly integrate solution platforms such as CRM, ERP or contact centre and other mission critical business systems. Complex multi-solution integration slows time-to-market, burns investment budgets, and often leaves cross-company teams frustrated with the outcomes.

We live in a world where agility, flexibility and “fail fast” are becoming synonymous with project progress and success, but soon may also join the increasingly long list of most hated jargon.  However, regardless of our semantic feelings, they do reflect a methodology and an approach that is available from a number of vendors who understand that “time isn’t always on your side”. These can address short term trials and pilots as well as long term DT deployments, without lengthy and costly “rip and replace” programs. I touched on this in more detail in an earlier blog, “Digital Transformation Hype or Hope” but here are the key points.

Platform Enabled Connectivity 

Many of the most critical and successful digital deployments tend to rely heavily on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and/or digital experience platforms (DXPs). These can deliver the robust and flexible integration that can connect content, data, and systems to unify marketing, commerce, and service processes over multiple touchpoints. They often have a much smaller footprint and a cloud presence that means implementing a Proof of Concept (POC) can be accomplished in days rather than months or years. As a subscription model, companies can also manage their investment carefully, and users can be brought on as required with flexibility in both data and capability, and with a minimum of IT involvement.

Even if one of these is not the ultimate solution, it enables an organization to trial concepts in “what if” scenarios that can mirror customer behaviour and colleague actions and determine acceptance of the proposed changes or any obstacles to their introduction. If an organization needs to go to tender, they can go with a much clearer idea of requirements, and knowledge of the “art of the possible” that can significantly reduce procurement time frames and costs. The end result is that these solutions can make life easier, quicker and satisfying for customers, smoother & less time consuming for colleagues and more cost effective for the business.

Doing this in a truly collaborative environment will help to develop the guiding principles and uncover a clear connection between the digital framework and the broader customer engagement and CX imperatives that drive them. It will also provide the organization with a road map that has been plotted on strong multi-departmental and customer experience principles that all the newly reunited family has played a role in creating and should keep them together for a while.

Image sourced royalty free from Pickabay

Gerry Brown
Gerry Brown aka The Customer Lifeguard is on a mission to save the world from bad customer service. Gerry takes a unique approach that helps businesses focus on getting back to basics with four fundamental principles that are vital to underpinning a successful customer experience strategy: Culture, Commitment, Communication and Community. Gerry has spent over 35 years in key management roles in the UK and Canada and has worked with some of the largest companies in Canada, the UK and EMEA, including O2, SONY, Sage, Screwfix, TUI, BSkyB, Bell Canada, TELUS, and CP Hotels.Gerry is a member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and the Global Speakers Federation (GSF) and speaks authoritatively and passionately about the practical, proven, customer service strategies that produce lasting, memorable and measurable results.


  1. Usage of premium 084, 087 & 09 numbers was made illegal for customer service lines several years ago. For retailers, traders and passenger transport companies this took effect through BIS regulation on 13 June 2014. For financial services firms this took effect through FCA regulation on 26 October 2015. In some cases, numbers have changed (usually to 03 or 080 numbers) but websites, paperwork or apps have not yet all been updated to match. Good companies have an announcement on their old numbers telling callers to hang up and re-dial the new number. Unfortunately, far too many have left the old numbers operational and with no such warning in place.


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