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The ‘employee customer’ experience

Last week in New Orleans I hosted a roundtable at AIIM16, the long running annual technology conference focused on information management. My session was entitled ‘Improving the Customer Experience’, and frankly I expected a sparse turnout as CX is not normally thought of as high on the back office IT agenda. Hence, we arranged only a small room and table to seat six or seven people. However, the table filled up well before the start time, extra chairs were needed and the room was soon bursting at the seams. It could have been my charisma and boyish good looks that brought in the crowd, but alas I think it was the roundtable’s discussion topic that actually hit the nerve.

Customer Experience is a topic we know well at DCG, and it’s one that we all reference to when our clients are building web and online experiences for external customers and prospects. We don’t so often connect Customer Experience with building applications for our internal customers ‘aka employees’. Let’s be honest here, at best, the world of Customer Experience Management (CEM) pays lip service to the concept of an employee  being an ‘internal customer’ let alone their need for a good ‘experience’.

But, here I was at a roundtable where pretty much all attendees were back office IT professionals building and running business applications for internal corporate use. In other words, they own the tools and systems that employees use on a daily basis to get their work done. And the discussions and opinions expressed from these good folks were truly eye-opening.

To quote one attendee, “We build great applications, but nobody wants to use them”. Another went a step further and said, “Our applications are great, technically outstanding, but they are hard and unattractive to use”. There were definitely some hard but honest words spoken behind the closed doors. Hence, it became quickly evident why they were there, as the inability to create a good application experience for the ‘internal customer’ was a huge concern to the collection of oil firms, retailers, financial services, health insurance, and entertainment brands in the room.

In their defense, platforms used to build internal business applications like ECM (Enterprise Content Management) and BPM (Business Process Management) have always focused on what’s underneath: the features, the functions, speeds and feeds rather than what’s on top (the experience). In addition, few internal applications are truly new builds. Rather, they are ‘applications’ of existing legacy platforms, data, and technologies. Ripping and replacing this stuff is not going to happen,  it’s not just the fact that they are building new applications on top of old technology. It’s that they are building new applications on top of already complex and deeply integrated, possibly even regulated, data and processes. So it could be argued that the cards are stacked against the back office IT folk and their System Integrator (SI) partners from the start. Interestingly, and in direct contrast, one of the regular complaints about today’s easy-to-use, great looking external customer applications is that they are often unintegrated with these important back end processes and platforms.

Some of takeaways from the roundtable discussion in the room and those that followed it were:

  • IT has a tendency to build all singing and dancing applications, when oftentimes the end user just wants something simple that works.
  • IT is pressured and measured to build applications that meet detailed business requirements provided to IT by business analysts.
  • Integration with legacy applications, platforms, data and architecture should be addressed from the start of any new application development process – be it external or internal customer-focused.
  • Business analysts have taken time to study and map business processes and figure out how to work an employee theoretically more productively, but seldom with much concern for the usability and experience the employee may encounter.

At DCG, we see a parallel universe to back office IT professionals in the one occupied by digital and creative agencies. Here conversely, the focus of  agencies is frequently too heavily focused on the people part of the equation and too lightly on the practical process requirements of the overall organization, turning a blind eye to the importance of integrating with supply chain, sales and customer management processes. You could say that we have something of a Mars versus Venus situation where back end IT and their SI’s are seen as technical, detached, logical and (hopefully) efficient. Whereas front end experience folk (digital agencies) are perceived as customer-focused, creative and free willed. Two different but oddly enough highly complimentary skill sets. So complimentary in fact, that it would be good to see creative and technical teams from both of these planets team up to work together holistically on IT projects. But that seldom ever happens.

More often than not, we see false barriers built and more silos created by service providers (from either planet) that think they can do everything under the sun equally well and can therefore ignore the other. We see, for example, digital marketing systems that fail to connect back to the supply chain reality of sales, delivery, and procurement operations. Likewise, we see logistics, compliance and finance applications that have little to no visibility into external customer trends and requirements. One result of this, and maybe most worrisome of all, is that a majority of IT projects continue to fail or fall short of expectations.

Yet, here in New Orleans were a bunch of IT folk from some of the world’s most prominent organizations looking for answers and seeking help. For them at least its time for Venus and Mars, back and front office, to recognize and respect each other’s relative strengths. Ideally, they should be working together to ensure that back end operations are conceived and built into front end applications from the start, and that back office applications are able to take on board and leverage the skills and lessons to undertake effective, front end experience design work.

For those service providers that are able to do so, there will be opportunities awaiting them. In fact, I know for sure that there are oil firms, retailers, financial services, health insurance and entertainment brands out there right now with deep pockets looking for help, looking for a joined-up approach to building a better employee experience.




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