How Would You Engage Customers If Technology Was Not In The Way?

How Would You Engage Customers If Technology Was Not In The Way?
Technology, installed at great cost to help improve customer service, is often the biggest barrier to meeting expectations.

This blog was also published on Forbes Brand Voice here.

Customers who have spent the past 10 years experiencing Amazon-level customer service have no patience when they face delays, roadblocks and requests for the same information through multiple channels or multiple service agents.

When hit with this frustration, they’re not just quietly pressing “0” or saying “operator,” they’re taking their business to a company that understands their non-stop expectations. In its Customer 2020 study, Accenture reports that customers “seek quicker resolution and fewer hassles—and if companies don’t move faster, they’ll move on.” According to the same study, “80% of consumers said they could have been retained, mainly if their issue had been resolved on their first contact with the company.”

Technology, installed at great cost to help improve customer service, is often the biggest barrier to meeting expectations.

Tracking the past vs. anticipating needs

The default solution is often a customer relationship management solution. The reality is that the majority of current CRM systems grew out of old mainframe records management systems that were designed to track and manage customer data. Essentially, all customer information was shoved and formatted into one rigid database.

These systems succeeded in tracking the past. However, they fail to provide immediate, real-time answers or take the next step to build on a customer’s history to anticipate what they might want next. Even the big cloud-based systems are little more than a Rolodex® in the cloud.

More challenging is that there is no process management in typical CRM systems beyond lightweight task management. When you have a service moment of truth with a customer, that customer is often asking you to do something that will be fulfilled with a complex business process. Unless you have technology that connects front-end contact centers, websites and apps all the way through to your operations centers, you’re just putting a facade on a broken process.

In my role as a Chief Technology Officer, I work with clients around the world who are working through the issues of rising customer expectations and the inflexibility of systems designed to serve those same customers. What we’re seeing are enterprises taking a step back to not just address technology, but to factor in the related culture, process and workflow dynamics that work together to become a customer-centric organization.

Customer first, enterprise second

We work with a leading bank in Singapore that was struggling with its new account experience. The previous process required 150 tasks and paper forms to create a new account. It led to high customer abandonment, low customer satisfaction scores and high costs.

Instead of simply adding digital elements to the old process, the bank took a step back and re-architected everything—looking through the eyes of the customer. Their thinking affected everything from how the branches were designed to the software they used.

Today, those 150 manual tasks have been collapsed into a single, intuitive system. A shared-screen experience enables the customer and banker to work side-by-side from the start. The experience is guided, so every progressive step is customized to the customer’s needs. Not only are account activations up significantly, the bank’s Net Promoter Scores have risen from near the bottom to near the top of a very competitive banking category. Delivering a consistently great customer onboarding experience has become a major selling point and differentiator for the bank.

Lessons from deconstruction

If you deconstruct this effort, what’s most interesting is how the bank approached this opportunity.

  • Avoid the trap of a superficial fix. Perhaps the smartest step was that they avoided the common enterprise trap of simply putting a new interface, app or digital experience on top of a broken process. Instead, they framed the opportunity around the customer and designed both process and technology from the outside in.

  • Adjust internal culture. Initial barriers to becoming customer-centric are more cultural than technological. From the C-suite down, teams must be empowered to create ideas based on what’s possible rather than simply making improvements to what’s been done before. Another customer explained it this way: “When you work with people who live on the cow path every day, their first instinct is to repave it.” It takes insight, an opening of the culture, and executive leadership with vision to lead people to step outside of their siloed processes into the shoes of customers. Organizations have to think outside-in, looking at every process from the perspective of their customer.

  • Technology improves process. Process improves experience. A third guidepost is to think about technology as not just front-end interfaces and back-end data and operations, but something that works “end-to-end” to deliver a seamless experience. We use simple metaphors, like case stages represented by chevrons and small, consumable process diagrams, to build applications that can manage an issue from “end-to-end,” across various channels and organizational silos. In this way, independent processes come together to provide a simple experience to the customer while managing all the organizational complexity. When these customer moments of truth are managed as a whole, and in separate pieces, the user feels that Amazon-like experience.

Recognize that your business is in the software business

Forrester’s George Colony has said that “In the future, every company will be a software company.” I believe that future is already here. If you are a bank, you are a company that uses software to deliver financial services. If you are an insurance company, you are a company that uses software to help consumers and businesses manage risk.

As a result, software must become a core competency of your enterprise. You must be able to architect technology to meet and stay ahead of ever-changing customer needs.

Pega has model-driven development tools that help companies accelerate their software development, even if they’re not digital natives. Business teams get the tools to put their requirements directly into an application and are able to model out their processes, decisions, rules and customer experiences. Our global clients are creating a culture of innovation and iteration, with business and technology teams working together with agility and a complete focus on customers.

It’s unrealistic for enterprises to work toward two-year goals when the market will have shifted in half that time. Why is speed so important? Let’s go back to Amazon. Their development approach breaks larger applications into smaller “services.” According to presentations from Amazon and a summary in the Harvard Business Review, this model lets Amazon release a change about once every 11 seconds, roughly 8,000 per day.

Watch the leaders

The best practices for using technology to create customer-driven experiences come from all industries and enterprises. It’s easy to point to the digital natives such as Amazon, Uber and PayPal.

PayPal, a Pega customer, really understands that they are a software company that manages financial transactions. They’ve built a culture of agility where they use our product in combination with continuous deployment methodologies to continually release, test and drive change and to deliver differentiating experiences to customers.

At a global enterprise level, American Express represents the best of where an organization has to go to deliver a truly exceptional customer experience. They’ve gone through their own technological transformation to evolve even further—a testament that even the world’s best service brands continually work to do a better job of enhancing customer engagement by focusing on customers, supported by technology that connects front-to-back and end-to-end.


It’s time to evolve. To stay competitive, you’ve got to keep up with your customers—and they’re moving fast. The right systems and software can help you stay out in front. Learn more about how Pega’s Customer Service app can help you evolve your customer service: Download the Pega Can whitepaper.