Customer experience has become a hot topic. Realizing that they must create consistent and engaging experiences to compete in today's business environment, many organizations are attempting to establish a customer experience management (CEM) strategy. As they venture into this arena, one crucial—but not so visible—element is often overlooked: integration.
To understand the role of integration within an enterprise, think about the pipes that carry water within your house. Any problem with your plumbing can make your home experience unpleasant. Just as your plumbing system is essential to the comfortable functioning of your home, integration is core to every aspect of customer interaction within your organization. It powers mobility of tools and applications, controls the influx of data for consumption by the analytics engine, connects your back-office and front-office applications, and ensures that every transaction is properly routed and monitored.
Reaching a state of information bliss requires a strategic integration approach. Unfortunately, most enterprises fail to realize this. Integration is often managed tactically on a project-to-project basis, without sufficient consideration of how the strategy fits into the overall customer experience plan of an organization.
What you end up with is myriad one-off integrations using different technologies often plugged into the same systems. Can you imagine the nightmare associated with management of these connections and any innovation associated with the related processes? Although the one-off approach can offer lower upfront costs, it increases the risks and makes future management and evolution quite costly. This, in turn, impacts the evolution of customer experience initiatives associated with the flow of information within the organization.
So what steps must you take to make your integration strategy a core element of customer experience, and what does it take to bring the two together in an elegant dance?
- Understand and map your systems. You may have already mapped the customer journey through your enterprise. Enrich this further by identifying end points and data elements that flow through the related systems and interfaces. Don't forget to take into account your current data governance requirements, or, at the least, keep in mind system of record and data priority definitions.
- Define the right technology. The integration platform marketplace is saturated with open source and commercial tools. Some offer better skill portability and ease of learning, while others provide more user-friendly and declarative interfaces and features. Having a robust library of prebuilt connectors to various tools/platforms will help decrease the development time it takes to deploy a new feature or integration point to your constituents. Available toolkits to support API management and mobile integration will ensure that your technology of choice can scale and extend beyond customers' near-term needs.
- Establish a center of excellence. Shared services around integration provide opportunities to optimize enterprise investments by consolidating process and technical ownership associated with the information flow across the enterprise. A COE will ensure the standards of architecture and will lower total technology cost by leveraging investments and experience across multiple initiatives.
- Collaborate. Get holistic with your customer experience strategy implementation by engaging integration process owners and architects throughout your planning process. They will help navigate the ocean of interactions, systems, and information flows and help you avoid hidden pitfalls on your path.
Offering top-notch customer experience is now an imperative in the competitive marketplace. Connecting systems, devices, and customers in a secure, replicable, and automated way creates consistency of information and facilitates better business decisions and improved customer satisfaction. Elevating integration on par with targeting, usability, personalization, and other customer experience tactics sets a solid foundation for becoming a true customer company.
Dmitri Novomeiski is the CRM practice leader at Pactera Technologies. He has held internal and consulting roles in the CRM industry for 15 years.