Developing Applications to Improve Customer Experience

Bridging the Arbitrary Product Line and Channel Silos that Drive Your Customers Crazy

October 13, 2011

Customers are annoyed when they don’t encounter a seamless experience as they interact across touchpoints or product lines. To delight them, start by taking an outside-in customer-centric design approach; then leverage your existing assets by providing an interactive layer on top of all the applications that your company already uses, with new workflows and logic based on customers’ and employees’ needs.


Most of our applications are focused on internal processes and satisfying our organizational needs and goals. But in today’s world, where more and more of our information, processes, and applications are exposed to our customers, whether directly or through customer-facing employees, it is important for our businesses and our IT practices to take a slightly different perspective. Start looking from the outside-in—the customer’s point of view—and you’ll find that the resulting applications will make customers happier, more loyal, and drive them less crazy!

Cheryl: Current Customer - I Want to Take Care of Multiple Business Issues Quickly and Easily

Cheryl: Current Customer - I Want to Take Care of Multiple Business Issues Quickly and Easily
(Click on image to enlarge.)


Customers are annoyed when they don’t encounter a seamless experience as they interact across touchpoints or product lines. They’re growing impatient with the difficulties that arise when they try to interact with your organization via the web, by phone, or face-to-face. The customer wonders:

  • “Why am I pre-enrolled for a credit card with an offer that arrives in the mail from my bank, but I have to fill in a complete new form when applying online for a home equity loan with the same bank that already knows my credit history and most of my assets?”
  • “Why can’t the loan officer at my bank access the loan application I filled in online, so he could add the additional information I’ve just brought into him?”
  • “Why can’t the phone rep tell me when my replacement bank card will arrive? The branch manager said I would get it last week and it hasn’t arrived yet!”
  • “Why do I need to know the plot number for my lot to pay my real estate taxes online? Doesn’t my town office already have that information? Why can’t I just enter my street address?”
  • “Why can’t I see the status of my grant application online? Where is it in the review process?”
  • “Why can’t my pharmacy refill my prescription without calling my insurance company or my physician?”
  • “Why can’t I find the same sale price online that I saw in the store yesterday? And why doesn’t the customer service agent on the phone know anything about that promotion?”
  • “Why can’t I get the same coverage in three different parts of the world? Why do I have to log into different web sites?”
  • “Why can’t the customer service rep give me immediate credit for the erroneous charge? I disputed that charge on my online statement, and she’s not even seeing a record of that dispute!”
  • “Why do I need to talk to three different people in order to get my questions answered, get a quote, and update my billing information? Why don’t you offer one-stop shopping? I don’t have time for this!”

What customers want are quick, convenient interactions. They want to be able to investigate options online, talk to someone with any questions they have, enroll or apply with the minimum fuss, see where they stand at any time, make changes to the account and billing information that they have already provided, resolve issues quickly, and just get on with their lives.

What customers want are quick, convenient interactions. They want to be able to investigate options online, talk to someone with any questions they have, resolve issues quickly, and just get on with their lives.


Unless you’re creating a new business from a clean slate, it’s been almost impossible to design and deliver a seamless experience across interaction channels, product lines, geographic regions, and customer lifecycle phases. Traditionally, different products and services are designed and delivered by different organizations, as are the customer experiences offered through different channels. The piece that has been missing is the focus on the customer experience as a whole; in most cases, the customer focus is secondary to the applications, the channel, the products, and the business goals. Let’s look at some of these barriers to a seamless customer experience.

Channel-Specific Applications

Most companies encourage customer self-service via the web. Web applications are usually quite good at enabling customers to place orders. But if the customer has a question, he may prefer to call or to interact using an online chat. In either case, he’d like the answerer to have the full context in order to answer well. Web applications often fall short when there’s a lot more information that the customer needs to provide –some of which he or she may not have handy at the moment. The typical solution is to require the customer to download a form, fill it in, and fax it back. This isn’t always a convenient or quick solution for the customer.

For some customers, making a quick phone call seems the easiest way to get things done. For others, making a phone call is as welcome as a trip to the dentist! These folks prefer to send a text message or to download and use a mobile phone app to get something done.

Often it’s most effective to deal face-to-face with a sales person, a service provider, or an advisor. But there are still a dozen or more interactions surrounding any face-to-face meeting—scheduling, requesting information and providing follow up information before and after the meeting(s). And, there’s invariably some form of paperwork involved in most interactions—paperwork that has to be filled in, entered into a system, and filed away for future reference or subsequent steps.

Each of these interaction channels poses specific challenges for the teams charged with implementing applications that are specific to that channel. And, many of these “channel-specific applications” involve multiple interaction types and documentation. But that’s just the beginning of the complexities involved in streamlining customer experiences.

Information and Technology Silos

In most organizations, the applications used by different departments were designed and rolled out at different times for different purposes. The information within those applications—including the policies and rules that apply to customer issues—are therefore siloed. As a result, customers can’t access all the information and functionality they need in a single web interaction or in single call to a single person. Customer-facing employees also can’t get all the information they need in a single request. They have to go to different screens to access the different applications, even though they are dealing with a single customer who perceives his problem to be a single issue (even though it spans internal business units).

Internal Applications that Weren’t Designed for Customers

Your back-office applications—e.g., ERP systems, inventory, transaction processing, billing, provisioning, etc.—were built to support your business and its needs, not the needs of customers. Your customer-facing employees have applications that are built as front-ends to these applications, supporting the fields and logic built into the existing applications. The way this data is maintained and presented is probably not at all how customers think about things.

“One-Size Fits All” Policies Aren’t Customer-Friendly or Adaptive

Company policies often create obstacles to providing a positive customer experience. We often make customers jump through hoops in order to get exceptions to company policies, many of which were put in place a while ago to mitigate risk or to protect profit margins. All too often, a customer support person doesn’t have the authority to, for example, offer a discount or refund to a customer after the specified time limit, nor to waive an application fee or early termination charge. Nor can they change the company’s credit approval policies, nor payment terms and conditions. Often, the policies that need to be adapted aren’t individual exceptions but rather they are customer segment or scenario-based. For example, if you’re encouraging credit card applications from recent immigrants you’d need to change your credit scores. They won’t have credit scores yet.


So how could you smooth over all the jarring potholes? How can you streamline customer-impacting workflows? How can you improve cross-silo coordination? How can you make it easy for customers to get things done as they... (more)


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