Good Customer Experience Demands Organizational Fluidity.

In today’s digital world users often interact with an organization multiple times in order to achieve a single goal. These related interactions make up what is called the customer journey. Many users take an omnichannel approach to complete their goals: they interact with the organization multiple times, using various channels (phone, web, mail, email, text, etc.) The overall experience on all these channels makes up the omnichannel customer experience.

The term customer experience is used to describe the broadest scope of the user experience. The three scopes of UX are as follows:

  1. The single-interaction level, which reflects the experience the person has using a single device in order to perform a specific task
  2. The journey level, which captures the person’s experience as she works to accomplish a goal (possibly using multiple interaction channels or devices in order to do so)
  3. The relationship level, referring to all the interactions between the person and the company, throughout the life of the customer relationship

For the two broader dimensions of UX, journey and relationship level, there are 5 components that impact the quality of these experiences:

  • Consistent: Providing a consistent, cohesive, and familiar experience across all channels
  • Optimized: Creating individual channel experiences that are best suited for that channel’s constraints and contexts of use
  • Seamless: Making channel transitions as effortless as possible and helping customers pick up where they left off when they switch from one channel to another during a task
  • Orchestrated: Proactively leading customers through their individual journeys with the right personalized interactions and messages at the right time
  • * Collaborative: Enriching the customer journey by allowing customers to take advantage of multiple channels at the same time to improve the overall user experience (such as enabling users to log in on a desktop bank site by using fingerprint authentication on their smartphones).

The last component has an asterisk, because it’s somewhat optional. Channel collaboration is not required for a good customer experience but often enriches it.

These experience components are listed in the order above for a reason. The first two components (consistent, optimized) are the most easily controlled because the scope of any organizational changes to address them is fairly targeted. If you need to make interactions across channels visually consistent, you will have to address the graphic design on each channel. However, the higher-level components, seamless and orchestrated, are not as easy to achieve because they require a larger scope of organizational changes than the lower-level components. So, the broader the journey and the broader the changes, the more dependencies the company will need to address.

Component 5, collaboration, requires multiple channels, so it’s more difficult to execute than consistency and optimization, but it’s not necessarily the most challenging component to implement.

More Organizational Transformations Needed for a Good Longitudinal UX

Most of the time, before making any UX changes to improve the customer journey, we must address three types of organizational dependencies and constraints:

  • Process and Structure. In many cases, a UX opportunity we identified requires not only a change in the user-facing experience, but a change in the things we do internally to support it.
  • People. Most of the time, to implement any UX change, we must get buy-in from other stakeholders. Long story short, getting others on board is always a huge dependency.
  • Technology. Sometimes, the user-facing change we need can’t be addressed without making a technical infrastructure change to support it.

In a lot of ways, your organization’s user experience is only as good as its ability to change. If you can’t support change in the dependencies, then they become a constraint holding you back, and those user-facing experience improvements won’t be correctly addressed. This holds true at every level of UX. However, the larger the scope of the experience, the more and harder-to-address the dependencies become.

Consider these examples of potential experience improvements:

  • Interaction level. You’ve done some usability testing on your company’s intranet. Users have a hard time locating the conference-room-booking feature because it’s on the right side of the page and the graphic design makes it look like a promotion or advertisement instead of a key feature on the system. You suggest moving it and changing the visual design to make it more findable. There are likely few dependencies in this situation. You may need to get buy-in from someone, but the impact and investment are small. There are no technical or process-related dependencies — just a small change on a page.
  • Journey level.  Suppose you work for a travel company. Your company has sales and travel deals quite often and your marketing department promotes these sales and deals on Facebook through custom promotional imagery. You’ve received a lot of customer feedback and questions from users who see specific travel deals on Facebook but are frustrated when they click the promotions only to be dropped on a general-sale page with hundreds of other deals. They expect to see the single deal that they clicked on and they struggle to filter through all the offerings on the Sales page. This issue is a failure in the seamlessness of the customer journey. The appropriate solution would be to drive customers to a landing page dedicated to the exact travel deal advertised in the Facebook promotional image. This change would be significant, as it impacts several areas of the organization, including the marketing department and the web-product team. It also has a large technical impact. Hundreds of additional landing pages would be needed to receive traffic from each unique promotion. The solution would require various levels of leadership approval and significant resource investments to address.

As you can see, changes to the high levels of the user experience, the journey and relationship level, have more dependencies and significantly impact people, processes and structures, and technology than changes at the interaction level. Instead of affecting just the moving parts immediately surrounding a particular interaction on a single channel, UX changes at the journey and relationship levels impact large, foundational moving parts that are deeply ingrained in the organization’s operations. Take the journey-level change needed for the travel website above: to implement it, you won’t just redesign a call to action on a single web page, but you’ll affect multiple departments’ processes and will require significant technical resources to support the improved solution.

This graph shows how the number, size, and difficulty of the organizational dependencies might grow with both the scope of the experience and the efforts to address the higher-level experience components. (Actual dependencies will be based on the organization and the nature of the implemented solutions.)

Fixing Omnichannel Experiences Means Addressing Internal Organizational Dependencies

In the case of the travel company, lack of seamlessness in the transition from the Facebook page to the website is just one issue. The root problem is the company’s outdated working structure and processes (one of the dependencies we mentioned above). Its marketing functions (the creation and posting of the Facebook promotional images) are separate from its website features. The two teams responsible for these experiences designed them in silos and did not consider them as part of a customer’s larger experience. Therefore, the two interactions did not appropriately connect, leaving the user with a fragmented experience.

It’s important to note that this type of fragmentation issue is likely not the only one. There are probably many other silos: isolated customer-facing experiences that ignore the rest of the customer journey — such as customer support, printed materials, and even physical branch locations. Therefore, many more similar issues exist across one organization’s ecosystem of channel solutions and across many of the types of customer journeys that they support.

In the past, because the web (as accessed through a computer) was the main digital channel available, it made a lot of sense to create pillars of responsibility with little connection between them. Marketing controlled external communications and different product teams oversaw different channels. However, over time, many more digital channels appeared, and, as a result, users became more dynamic in their approach to complete tasks. Companies reacted and began to design for these channels, but they did so by fitting them into their existing siloed frameworks.

The issue with this type of solution is that users don’t follow happy paths through specific siloed channel experiences. They start, stop, and start again while switching from one channel to another to achieve a goal. To users, all these channels form one experience, and, for that experience to be good, it can’t break down. If organizations are siloed and still focused on designing channel solutions, then this internal fragmentation will surface in the customer experience.

Omnichannel Strategies Should Seek to Fix Dependencies Not Just Pain Points

Of course, one way to improve these broad-scope experiences is to resolve each of these issues individually. However, this approach is shortsighted. It is difficult to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.

Organizations that truly want to improve their longitudinal customer experiences should work to solve the root problem, not just the customer-facing pain points. In the case of the travel site, the root problem was the siloed structures and channel-focused way of working. Strategically addressing this dependency by structuring teams to work horizontally in order to design connected customer journeys will position the company to deliver less fragmented customer experiences across the board.

Here are some high-level recommendations for addressing the major dependencies that we’ve discussed:

  • Process and structure
    • Create a collaborative organizational working structure.
    • Consider restructuring teams and departments to allow for collaboration and journey-focused design.
    • Reward employees (especially managers) for collaborating with other departments.
  • People
    • Foster a customer-focused culture.
    • Educate leadership and employees about why they must adopt new ways of working.
    • Build shared values and a shared vision for a new way of approaching work around experiences instead of channel solutions.
  • Technology
    • Identify dated technology products and architectures that create constraints in customer journeys.
    • Work toward integrated systems that can easily share data.

Omnichannel Maturity Is Dependent on Organizational Change

If you want to deliver high-quality customer experiences, look beyond the surface of your customer journeys. Take an introspective look at how your company approaches work and the supporting technologies that deliver it. It’s not just about fixing the customer-facing experiences. You may also need to redesign how these customer-facing experiences are designed and delivered.

Some digitally native companies like Uber and Airbnb boast high-quality, consistent, and connected customer experiences. It’s easy for a new company to come in and build these great omnichannel experiences from scratch with the knowledge of how users approach their goals with today’s technology. Consumers take notice of these experiences.  They now want and expect this same level of experience from their bank, their insurance providers, and every other company they do business with.

It’s not as straightforward for longstanding companies to provide these exceptional experiences. They have legacy technologies, structures, and processes in place that must be changed in order to do so. Change is hard, and it can’t happen overnight. The first step is understanding this truth. The next step is to build a strategy and roadmap to create the change needed to deliver high-quality customer experiences in the future.