When I lived in Santa Cruz, California, I had the opportunity to partner with Mayor Ryan Coonerty to lead a committee reviewing the use of technology for our local government. Our committee was to spearhead a significant wave of digital transformation. As I sat with the city’s CFO, he spelled out his department’s greatest problem:
“I’d love to offer a much better citizen experience, but I can’t because I don’t know who you are. The Shane who owes property taxes, pays utilities, has two businesses, got a parking ticket (oops), whose kids are in Jr. Lifeguards, who votes, is a landlord, visits the library weekly, reported a pothole, served jury duty… I have no way to know if you are the same person. You have to pay me a dozen different ways through a smattering of different systems, and none of them talk to each other.”
Citizens’ experiences with each city service are vastly different and completely unaligned. So why the bird’s nest? Upon deeper exploration, it became clear that “interoperability” (where systems connect and share information) was not part of the required analysis when city staff selected platforms to serve their users.
This siloing of systems is far from unique to local government, and it’s a challenge that nearly every organization faces as it scales. An overwhelming majority of businesses find themselves competing on the basis of customer experience, but most are still struggling to keep up with customer expectations for digital platforms. In order to solve this disconnect, brands will need to work across their organizational divides and prioritize the user journey above all else.
Uniting Platforms for The Greater Good
As companies get bigger, multiply their brands, and expand their customer base, the organizational structure also diversifies and specializes. Each department begins to focus on its specific product, service offering, or segment of the customer journey. In this increasingly complex ecosystem, creating alignment across each point of the user journey becomes the challenge at scale. With every new product, channel, market, or department, more effort and resources are needed to coordinate and streamline the technology platforms that support them.
From an organizational perspective, the first step to overcoming this fragmented experience is to rally internal stakeholders around a shared brand promise. At Costco, the unifying principle is to “save the customer money.” It is so powerful that Costco puts customer savings ahead of shareholder profits. This prime directive shapes every customer touchpoint and business practice. It ultimately becomes what my marketing director calls the Brand (with a “Capital B”).
Once positioning is assured, then there is a technological imperative to ensure the user experience across each of your platforms unifies gracefully with the prime directive. What does this mean practically? It means designing the core product offering to tie in well to each system the user interacts with: the customer support platform, marketing site, outbound marketing automation engine, (e)commerce platform, point of sale, social presence, mobile apps, CRM, and the hundreds of other specialty tools. In short, all these tools create a seamless experience, allowing a Costco customer to “feel the savings.”
Modern web development is an amalgam of frameworks gracefully woven together. While users have been trained to accept a lot of friction, the experiences they share and rave about are seamless.
The latest buzzword to describe this adventure is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP), although it is being bandied about somewhat indiscriminately. It really boils down to the idea that a technical team and partners should be deeply focusing on integrations, specifically the artful design and implementation of the seams between each of the touchpoints.
Influencing the Entire Journey
Gracefully integrating systems across a product line is a solid win. Users will appreciate it, but they will also expect to achieve similar parity of experience across all the offerings. This is challenging for any company, but it really levels up when organizations have localized teams focused on creating an experience that puts the customer first and a global team trying to get everyone marching in lockstep.
Modern Tribe specializes in designing and building large scale digital platforms for global, multi-brand companies. Through these web and mobile projects, we often find ourselves working across departments and business units to create a cohesive experience throughout the user journey. Steelcase is one of the world’s largest furniture manufacturers and sells primarily through large commercial resellers like Target Industrial and Red Thread. Many customers actually interact through these value-add resellers, rather than with Steelcase directly. Their external channels drive a significant portion of their business but introduce even more complexity in the customer experience.
To craft a cohesive experience, they would have to partner with their independent vendors and unify the local shopping experience with their global best practices. So they went to Target, and to Dancker, and to Red Thread, and over 200 other vendors, to sell a vision of a collaborative and highly refined online experience to replace their core websites. And they successfully signed up 70+ vendors for a private software as a service offering. This new online experience was co-funded and actively powered by Steelcase, but it allowed the individual dealer significant flexibility to customize all the visuals, content, and offering on their new site to suit the needs of their respective brand’s customers. They were, after all, direct competitors. Through a series of APIs, this platform allowed the vendor to have real-time, accurate product updates, highly targeted marketing, CRM integration with shared leads and improvements to dozens of other user touchpoints.
All of this functionality would have been out of reach for each dealer independently, based on budget or logistical constraints. The vendor could now focus on their specific value-add proposition, and Steelcase could ensure a high degree of quality and consistency across their ecosystem. Dealers believed so strongly in the power of this unified platform that they adopted across their entire portfolio of products, including Steelcase products and dozens of other manufacturers. By focusing on this shared vision, Steelcase and their network dealers improved the customer experience and drove steady increases in engagement and sales metrics.
Driving Internal Adoption By Meeting Customer Demand
Bon Appétit Management Company (Bamco), a division of Compass International, runs over 1,200 restaurants. Each venue has its own menu, branding, style of management, and approach to creating customer loyalty. While each restaurant is ultimately supported by the corporate mothership, the local staff is fully responsible for the user’s daily experience and the financial well-being of the venue.
Bamco has achieved an amazing degree of organizational alignment, in large part to a technology-forward strategy. Seven years ago there was little consistency to the user journey between restaurants. They had invested deeply in a restaurant management platform but had not succeeded in garnering much adoption at the local level.
They followed the first major investment by crafting a highly customizable and brandable multisite framework to provide customers of each restaurant a branded website with up to two weeks of menus. Upcoming specials was the #1 user request since most restaurants change their specials daily. The data powering these menus came from an API, which pulled from the restaurant management platform.
Following this success, the same set of menu data was then used to power digital signage in the restaurants to replace printed menus. And then they used the data again to create a personalized email subscription to send the daily specials to over 60,000 people, based on their geographic location and dietary needs. Mobile ordering and more soon followed.
Restaurants noticed these offerings and wanted to take advantage. To do so, they needed to adopt the restaurant management platform. The value add was so strong that adoption went from 33% to 99%. The restaurants’ websites collectively went from a few thousand visitors a month to over 2.5 million. The demand driven by the user journey itself drove the internal adoption.
Unifying the power of local knowledge, the expertise of a global team, and the consistency of methodology and voice across the organization creates a powerful platform. When tech is then aligned and enables teams to meet the customer, magic often happens. The user gets a consistent narrative across all their touchpoints and meaningful targeted communication.
The anchor that ties it all together is the fundamental value offering, the Brand proposition, from which the user connects to your company and returns to experience again. Once you know the key anchor, you know how to meaningfully connect all your independent systems.
Prioritizing interoperability and the whole user journey is the first fundamental step your organization can take. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know how we can help.