We're living in the age of the customer experience

By Ian Robinson

Innovation takes on many forms, but nowhere is it more evident than in the delivery of a compelling customer experience. Across a broad range of industries and regions, organizations are increasingly being defined by the experiences they create. According to a report on digital reinvention, 54 percent of executives believe their customers' buying behaviors are shifting from a products- and services-based approach to an experience-based approach and, according to a Walker study, they're right. An astounding 86 percent of customers will pay more for a better customer experience. If they haven't started already, it is now imperative for businesses to make this transformation.

As the emphasis shifts from delivering a product or service to creating an experience, leadership teams should adjust their planning accordingly. Defining a compelling experience requires a deep understanding of the target customer's aspirations, motivations and behaviors. Fortunately, advances in technology can quickly deliver the contextual data that makes such insights possible — and actionable at exactly the right time. This is essential in a world where context is king.

Clearly, digital transformation is the enabler for many unique customer experiences. For example, the combination of always-on mobile devices with cloud-based scheduling services make ride-sharing possible, and home automation integrates natural language processing with the latest generation of connected devices.

Watch how companies are creating real-time experiences:

CIOs can lead their team in interpreting customer context by deploying the sensors, mobile devices, cloud-based APIs and other technologies necessary to capture an accurate snapshot of the customer and the environment at the right time. CIOs can also manage the teams who own, secure and manage the internal data that fills out a broader picture of the customer's history, background and needs. With 85 percent of CIOs focusing on enhancing their organizations' intelligence and insight, they can lead the way in the rapid integration of this diverse data to a form where insight can be made that translates to timely and engaging customer experiences.

Because any flaws or disconnects in such complex and fast-moving processes can negatively affect the all-important customer experience, CIOs must encourage their teams to maintain a holistic view and focus on the metrics that matter. Successful digital transformation initiatives can create unique and engaging customer experiences that inspire loyalty, drive referrals and outflank competitors. Conversely, IT projects constrained by an overly narrow, internal focus may fail to consider the final user experience and full business risk.

The role of the CIO continues to evolve, as technologies that were once limited to a small, tech-savvy team of specialists has now infiltrated every facet of life for employees and customers alike. Though decisions made by CIOs in the past typically affected a subset of knowledge workers, mobile has altered the math, and CIOs need to consider the full ecosystem. These days, CIO decisions — good or bad — can have broad and immediate repercussions across all employees, business partners and connected customers. The global CIO role has evolved and expanded, and now is the right time (maybe the last chance for some) to step up to the responsibility for digital transformation and experience-building.