Monday, July 15, 2024

The Rise of Digital Customer Experience


Digital customer experience (DCX) is a hot topic these days. As a digital team leader at Cisco, I was recently asked to speak about it at an industry conference. You should know that when I’m put in front of an audience, I often lean on hyperbole as a verbal crutch to help sell a point. I opened that speech with a bold overstatement, hoping to elicit a few laughs:

“Digital customer experience is the most important function in your entire company, and will be for the next decade.”

Surprisingly, no one in the crowd seemed amused. Instead, almost everyone nodded their head in agreement. Some appeared to be writing it down.  I think one guy even tweeted it. And I thought to myself, “whoa, maybe it’s actually true!” Maybe it’s the truest thing ever uttered in the history of the world.

In all seriousness, digital customer experience is one of the most important differentiators for your business. Why? Because your customers prefer it. They would rather engage with you online through self-serve channels than talk to you—at least as a primary option. This is true in B2B, it’s true across every stage of the pre- and post-sales lifecycle, and it’s true of most customers, regardless of size or industry.

The fundamental reason behind this digital preference is a desire for simplicity. Customers want things to be easy. They want to get value from your product or service as quickly and with as little effort as possible. This is crucial because, in an increasingly subscription-oriented world, if you’re too complicated they’ll just cancel you and find another provider with a better, easier, more digital experience.

So how do you build a great DCX, one that meets your customers’ needs and builds a sustained competitive advantage for your company over the next ten years? Here’s what we’ve done at Cisco, where our DCX team was recently awarded four medals in the International Customer Experience Awards.

Digital Transformation Starts with your People and Culture

You can have the best vision, strategy, and tech stack in the world, but ultimately success depends on your people.

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Building a high performing DCX organization includes staffing skilled experience mapping and digital content strategists, data and insights experts, and automation and orchestration platform specialists. Cisco has also established DCX go-to-market teams—folks who embed digital programs into the business and execute through internal teams and partners. It’s been one of the keys to our success.

Most importantly, build a strong culture where people can thrive. Nothing else matters if you don’t have people with shared values who have each other’s backs.

Build Journeys that Guide Customers to Value

At its core, DCX is about the customer journey—a guided path for your customers to help them adopt a solution and achieve their business outcomes. To create an effective journey, it’s imperative to start with the customer. Talk to them. Listen as they describe their experience at every step—their perceptions, feelings, and needs. Map out the experience along the stages of the lifecycle, identifying the exact points in the process where you need to make things easier. Layer in your product adoption framework, which prescribes healthy usage patterns along the way. Then develop helpful, contextual digital content aligned to each of those points on the experience map. Finally, build your data pipelines and business rules to power the automation of the experience. The result is a digital journey that will gracefully guide your customer to value and success.

Once the journey is operational, consistently monitor performance. Recognize where customers slow down or need extra help, and quickly make the necessary adjustments to remove friction and optimize their experience.

Engage Customers in the Channels they Use

The modern customer experience is omni-channel. While most B2B customers may still prefer email, the reality is they are interacting with you across a variety of channels. More than two-thirds of your customers start their experience with online search. They look for information on your website, community forums, social media, and, increasingly, messaging apps like Cisco Webex. Your analytics team should be able to predict how customers engage, enabling you to personalize how you deliver content to them through their preferred channels—which of course should all be connected and synchronized so the experience feels cohesive as the customer moves between touch points.

Omni-channel includes coordinating with people, too. For example, if the customer is stalled and needs human intervention, the system should trigger an alert to the appropriate sales or customer success person and prescribe the action they should take with the customer. It’s what we refer to at Cisco as a digital-led, human-augmented experience.

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Orchestrate the Experience Using Insights and Automated Decisions

DCX is often defined as delivering the “right experience at the right time in the right channel”—which emphasizes what we call intelligent orchestration, and it’s indispensable in a contemporary digital strategy.

Building an orchestration engine powered by data science and AI takes everything you know about a customer—who they are, what they have, how they behave, what they should do next—and feeds those insights into an AI infrastructure that makes decisions, automatically, on what content to deliver to what customer in what way.

Your orchestration platform is the brain of the Digital Customer Experience that determines and delivers the type of anticipatory, individualized experience your customers expect. And because it’s fully automated, it delivers that customized experience in real time at tremendous scale.

But don’t be afraid to “fail forward” in your orchestration strategy. Be imaginative, experiment, and try new things. It may not always work, but you’ll learn from it and continually improve.

Optimize and Scale through Partners

Cisco is a channel-led company, and we have found that delivering customer experience works a whole lot better when we combine efforts with our partners. This “greater together” philosophy applies to our DCX strategy as well, which is why we created our flagship Lifecycle Advantage program for partners.

Lifecycle Advantage empowers partners to leverage and co-brand Cisco’s digital journeys to guide our mutual customers through the lifecycle. It’s a powerful program used by more than 7,000 partners globally, and two of the most popular program tracks are Customer Success and Renewals.
In Lifecycle Advantage Customer Success, partners put their customers on a digital adoption journey. They can also monitor and guide their customers’ progress leveraging deep insights such as telemetry data, usage patterns, and stage progression rates, as well as prescriptive alerts. Check out this video to see Lifecycle Advantage in action:

In Lifecycle Advantage Renewals, Cisco’s Commerce Automation eStorefronts empower partners to digitally notify their customers of renewals, and deliver a quote that customers can transact online. This can dramatically reduce partner operational costs while giving customers the simple, frictionless online renewal experience they want.

Build Thriving Customer Relationships through Communities and Advocacy Programs

An essential pillar of a successful DCX strategy is the online customer community. This is a space where you build meaningful two-way relationships with your customers.

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At Cisco, we have nearly 15 million users in our Community. It’s a forum where customers can ask questions, share ideas, and learn from each other. For us, it’s a vital source of insight into customer perceptions and needs. It drives tremendous cost savings (as more than 70% of customers prefer to self-serve online instead of opening expensive support cases). And, it leads to higher customer satisfaction, retention, and advocacy—boosted by initiatives like our Cisco Designated VIP and Insider programs.

Turbocharge Your Transformation through Digital Innovation

As you manage your DCX strategy, create space for innovation. Build a culture of ideation, experimentation, and incubation to make sure you’re future ready.

At Cisco, we’ve established a DCX innovation center of excellence consisting of transformation-minded cross-functional leaders chartered with the development of new ideas. Focus areas include predictive data science models, generative AI applications, intelligent content, and next generation e-commerce. This team ensures we stay on the leading edge as new digital trends and technologies emerge.

This isn’t just for the sake of innovation. Remain driven by a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and a clear definition of the problem you’re trying to solve, then pilot your ideas and quantify impact. A design thinking methodology is a great framework for this and will ensure you’re driving the most meaningful innovation initiatives.

DCX Delivers Business Impact

DCX is a mission-critical differentiator for Cisco and our partners. For example, 70% of all Cisco customers who progress from one lifecycle stage to the next have recently interacted with digital content. Those customers who are engaging digitally actually progress 28% faster than those who don’t. They have a 33-point higher average health score, suggesting greater product feature utilization. When they engage in more than one digital channel, they’re more than twice as likely to progress to a “low risk” stage of adoption, indicating value realization and probable retention. And, when customers engage in the digital renewal journey, their renewal rate is 19 points higher than customers not digitally engaged. The impact to our business is undeniable.

As it turns out, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Digital Customer Experience is the most important function in your entire company. Over the next decade, how well you execute your DCX strategy may very well dictate your success or failure as a business. Ultimately, we believe that DCX is the key to transforming your business, building sustainable growth, and delivering long-term customer value.

 

 


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