Transformation—The Evolving Customer Experience
The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified® with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.
For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified® with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Hello. I’m Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified® with PMI. I’m here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and today we’re talking about customer experience and how people’s expectations—inside and outside our organizations—are evolving.
We live in a time of instant gratification, which has changed the way people expect to interact with organizations.
Digital, on-demand service is a growing part of what customers are looking for. And that means organizations have to create an experience that’s quick, easy to navigate and customized.
Yeah, at this point, we’ve become very accustomed to convenience.
And as soon as one company offers something new and impressive, that raises the bar for everyone.
I recently saw a survey from Salesforce that said 73 percent of customers say an extraordinary experience with one company actually raises their expectations of other companies, too.
So there’s a lot of pressure in the marketplace to keep up.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
And it’s not just about being always on. It’s also being available across platforms.
And a lot of customers will start and end transactions on different devices or different channels, depending on where they are or what they’re doing or the nature of the transaction. Yesterday—literally in one day—I communicated with my auto insurance company by real-time voice, voicemail, text, text-based file sharing, email and web-based video upload. All part of the same transaction.
So organizations have to be essentially everywhere. And keeping all the supporting systems fully integrated and performing at a high level is a tough job that requires big investment. In fact, Gartner says that in 2018 three quarters of organizations increased their spend on customer experience technology.
Yeah, and to make the biggest impact possible, organizations have to manage those investments carefully.
And we have a real-world example of this to share from one of PMI’s 2018 PMO of the Year finalists.
Triglav Group, which is based in Slovenia, is one of the largest insurance companies in southeastern Europe.
And it recently went through a digital transformation that helped streamline its customer experience and boost online sales.
We’ll hear a bit more about how they did it a little later in the episode.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
I love hearing a story about a PMO that’s delivering this kind of business impact, so I’m really looking forward to this.
We’re also going to hear from Borislav Tadić, a vice president at Deutsche Telekom in Bonn, Germany.
Boris and I discussed how organizations need to simplify in order to improve the customer experience—and why every area of an organization has to be involved in that process.
We’ll get to that conversation shortly.
But first we’re going to hear from Sindhu Joseph, the CEO and founder of CogniCor Technologies in San Francisco.
CogniCor develops virtual assistants, so I’m really interested to hear Sindhu’s take on how AI can help improve the customer experience.
Let’s go to her now.
There were some businesses that were born digital. So if you look at those businesses that did not have the stigma of transforming themselves from the pre-digital to the digital space and they did not have to change their model of operations, the advantage for them was they could really think through from ground up what it meant to be customer-centric in a digital space.
What Amazon and Uber have established, it is still the instant, personalized, ubiquitous and transparent service that every customer of today is expecting.
As a side effect, what happened was customers were increasingly used to this kind of personalized, transparent, 24/7-access service, and they started expecting this from every business that they interact with.
Can all of these services and businesses rise to these customer expectations? My answer is the tools are increasingly available to make it happen for the enterprise decision makers, the CEOs and CIOs of the world. They need to think holistically and digitization native rather than thinking about digital transformation.
There are many ways that organizations can make use of AI and artificial intelligence-based solutions.
So we have a digital assistant that takes in the business operations, the business products, policies, and then once it is trained on all of these things, anytime anyone asks a question about all of this, it provides a very clear, concise, consistent, direct-to-the-question response.
The problem is, if you look at most enterprises, I’m sure this is true for most enterprises, there’s nothing like this kind of brand repository of all information. It is distributed in the heads of SMEs, in PDF documents, in different content management tools, and most of the time—I’m not exaggerating this—50-plus percent of this information is outdated, duplicated and inconsistent.
I would say this is one of the major achievements when we did this project, was streamlining the process of creating one source of truth and streamlining the process of creating this knowledge within the enterprise. We also deployed a distributed way of collecting knowledge from experts, SMEs, collecting it together in one single place.
So I think many times most organizations focus on what is visible to the customer, but I would advise that as much as focusing on the interfaces and channels and things like that, we should also focus on what is happening behind the scenes, which is, what are the processes and how efficient we can make these processes and what are the automations possible. And once we streamline these, the impact of this change becomes very easily transferrable to the customer.
We have worked on projects where a complete automation is possible, also where we are improving the efficiency of human teams, and I think as humans, we are really good at building relationships, understanding and empathizing with our customers and users.
When AI is able to support and provide with the expert knowledge, insights, then humans become effective communicators of all of this knowledge. And that’s where I get most excited when we deploy AI solutions in that context, and we are more and more trying to boost the efficiency of these human-plus-AI teams so that we get the best experience for the users.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Researchers and practitioners alike are expecting AI to have a major impact on customer experience projects over the next few years.
And that’s not surprising, given the demand for immediate customer service.
Like you said, Tegan, once people get used to having the option of getting instant answers from a chatbot, they’re much less willing to wait 24 hours for someone to answer an email.
Yeah, they are much less willing. In fact, that same Salesforce survey that I mentioned before found that 71 percent of customers expect companies to communicate with them in real time.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
And chatbots can really help with that, but there are also a lot of areas where people just don’t want to rely on technology.
Especially when you’re looking for an expert recommendation or making a major investment, you want to interact with a person, not a robot.
PV Kannan, co-founder and CEO of 7.ai, has written about this extensively, and he’s built a business on it. He says that “… successful virtual agent systems depend on bots working with humans, not replacing them.” Getting this right—integrating the AI and human worlds—will be critical for many organizations for the foreseeable future.
Tech and customer experience company Calabrio, in a survey of several thousand customers last year, found that 79 percent still view human interaction as an important aspect of customer service.
That’s absolutely true, and it’s something that we heard from the PMO team at Triglav Group in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Triglav was a PMO of the Year finalist in 2018, and one of its major projects revolved around transforming the customer experience.
But one of the interesting things the team found was that while there were a lot of things customers wanted to do online, there were still quite a few areas where they preferred to interact with agents.
So Triglav digitized customer information on the back end, which made it easier for agents to provide faster, more personalized service.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
That sounds like a great strategy—and a perfect example of what Kannan is describing.
Our contributing editor Hannah Schmidt has the full story. Let’s go to her now.
In the financial services sector, longtime leaders are now competing with fintech upstarts. And that’s forcing these massive financial institutions to learn to move faster. For many, that means launching a digital transformation.
It’s a big task—one that’s not always successful. But when Triglav Group revamped the legacy system for its biggest product portfolio, the PMO team knew what it was up against.
Two previous attempts had been unsuccessful, and Andrej Knap, vice president for IT, back office and projects, says there was a lot of pressure to get it right.
To update the core system was really the most important project ever in Triglav. And we have to be cautious because the business needs to run as nothing happened. We couldn’t afford any disturbance to day-to-day operations. But, on the other hand, we need to change the whole infrastructure for making policies, paying claims, paying everything.
To understand how changes could impact the 119-year-old company’s operations, the team built bridges between departments. Project director Zoran Korenjak says this also let teams collaborate on ideas that would help Triglav better serve its customers.
We are a team of different experts from different areas and fields, and when we unite our expertise, then we can really achieve results because we understand the services and the products that we want to offer to our customers.
And what is most important, we understand how our customers function and what are their needs now, and we kind of anticipate what their needs will be in the future.
But delivering better service required consolidating and centralizing customer data across the company. And that meant all hands on deck.
Jaka Borštnar, director of the change management and project portfolio department, says the PMO kept people committed—even when things got complicated—by providing nonstop support and expertise.
We are very committed and engaged in doing our work. We want to share this to our colleagues in the company to transform them to be more from some traditional values to more customer-oriented and digital values.
Today, Triglav agents are able to provide faster, more personalized service to their customers. And the company has increased its online product portfolio by 50 percent. These changes have produced real results. Since the transformation, Triglav has seen a 160 percent jump in online sales—and a 15 percent decrease in operating costs.
It’s not just about the insurance itself anymore, it’s about services that are greater, bigger, more effective for the customer that the modern insurance company will deliver.
We need to be stable, we need to be safe, we need to be long-term oriented. And at the same time, we need to find parts when we can be agile, digital, modern, and, let’s say, digital customers-oriented more, as we are now.
I really like how Triglav’s PMO focuses on helping employees better serve their customers.
You hear a lot about how employee engagement and customer service are really so tightly linked, and I do think people are happier with their jobs when they have easy access to the information they need to do that job well.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Absolutely. And so many of these big changes are highly dependent on internal technology upgrades on the back end.
That’s something I talked about with Borislav Tadić, a vice president at Deutsche Telekom in Bonn, Germany. Boris is responsible for transformation and board member support for data protection, legal and compliance.
Boris has a wonderful, holistic perspective on customer experience, so we talked about how organizations can address customer pain points more systemically or comprehensively. Rather than dealing with one complaint, how can you address the root cause of dissatisfaction in general?
Yeah, that’s a really important question and not always an easy one to answer. So I’ll be really interested to hear what Boris had to say.
Let’s go to that conversation now.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
So tell me, how are people’s expectations of customer experience evolving? What are people looking for today, and how might that be different from what people were looking for 10 years ago?
I believe it comes down to three basic elements. Number one is transparency. Number two is personalization, and number three is simplicity. What do I mean by that? When we are speaking about transparency, the customers want to know where am I in a certain process. What is the expected processing time, what the answer will look like, what are the costs which are incurred, who I should contact, and which data is collected about me and what can I collect or reuse?
Second topic, also very important, is personalization. I don’t want to get en-masse emails, any kind of communication, which has basically depersonalized me and not understanding what I am interested in, not understanding my needs, my demands.
And the third one, last but definitely not the least, maybe even the most important element, is the simplicity. Attention spans are getting shorter. People are bombarded with different kinds of information, but also different kinds of products and services. So, they always need to have a clear understanding of everything going around them, in the most simple language. And you can do that with a variety of different options from self service. How timely is your response? How understandable or readable is your contract? And in many, many other ways.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Yeah. Yeah. So society marches on, civilization marches on, expectations change. But how much is technology driving this shift? And then, how is technology helping organizations respond to these demands?
Technology plays really a crucial role in every customer experience improvement. And it addresses all the three elements we were just speaking about. There are many new advances which are supporting this shift and helping basically commercial sector, but also public and civic sector, to advance. And when I’m speaking about customers, I mean a wider variety of the people we interact with, the organizations we are interacting with.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Yeah. Yeah. When we think about consumer-facing organizations, I want to talk a little bit about where people should be focused. And of course, you’ve had experience both serving internal customers and external consumer customers. When you think about those consumer-facing organizations, how should we be thinking about the consumer experience?
We have to start looking at way more holistically than we do today. Yeah? So for me, customer experience does not start and end only at the customer touch points. And from my perspective, every part of your organization has to play a role. That just means that every part of your organization has to understand the customer mindset and has to be ready to contribute to these great women and men who are at the touch points, to increase the customer experience and to delight the customer.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Yeah. So, I like what you’re saying about this idea that every part of the organization really has to have an understanding of customer mindset and then understand how they contribute to delivering that ultimate customer experience. I think that’s an incredibly powerful model. What have you found as some of the ways that you’re able to do that? How do you get what feels like organizations or functions that are buried deep inside a large enterprise, how do you get them to connect to customer experience?
First of all, you start with a dialogue. You have to speak with as many stakeholders as you can, not only top management, which is also very important that they, like our management in our case, fully stand behind the perfect customer experience. But it’s important to speak directly with B2C and B2B customers, to engage them. And also to speak in regular intervals with all the internal functions, whether it’s finance, HR, IT, commercial functions, basically to get the information, you have to understand what they are doing and how they’re contributing to the both value chain and the customers.
Based on that, if you’re doing that, you have to observe how their product life cycles are and try to put yourself into the shoes of the customers, independent if it’s external or internal customer. From their shoes, think about whether you would enjoy being on a telephone call with one of our agents. Or would you enjoy, are you served in a proper manner when you’re in an online shop or in a physical store? When you gather all that information, of course estimate the measures, what we did in the past of course, try to understand what kind of impact, what kind of changes are necessary.
When you have that, bring it to the top management, bring it to every layer of the management and try to understand how they can contribute, motivate their teams, enable their teams to work on these small, I would call them customer experience artifacts, parallel to their everyday business.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
In talking about your approach to digitization and transformation programs, you’ve said that people often start with tools, but that from your experience, you should really start with simplification and acceleration of processes and policies. Can you talk a little bit about how that applies to programs that either contain a significant customer experience component or really are working toward the objectives of improved customer experience?
Sure. The first element you have to do is to get the information which you need to simplify. So, for example, in our digital transformation, we used the classical elements such as customer focus groups, asking them about possible improvements, about ideas, about the pain points, where we got, for example, very many interesting points how, for example, a simple contract change process or an opt-out process could work. And we tried to carry it out into the rest of the organization. Then basically when you discuss, during a customer journey, when you discuss how a process looks like with the customer, they can tell you many steps which you don’t see from your internal perspective, which you don’t notice, which is happening on the ground.
So when you gather all this information, then you start thinking about, okay, how do I simplify from here. What are the concrete action? Does it mean to change the language in a certain document, to carve out certain steps, to reduce the number of the elements, for example, such as requirements and policies, which basically influence all the processes in the company? Or how I can concretely do or specifically do something which is very, very much better than the competition?
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Yeah. Yeah. That’s brilliant. Can you share an example of a project that you worked on that measurably improved customer experience? And if you would, explain how technology played a role in that.
We had I would say a list of some 60 at the time, 60 strategic topics or areas where we are engaged as a group. And in these areas, I’ve noticed that for each topic, there is an array of experts, which are basically there to provide advice or to support or to deliver, to interact with the customers and in many ways. And then basically what we did, we spoke with the business owners of these important strategic fields and asked them, “Is there something that we can do better here, which would increase or improve your experience?” And they said, “You know, all these experts are fantastic. They helped me not once, but many, many times. However, sometimes when it’s a new topic or when we are just starting certain initiatives, I don’t know who to speak to. So, I just need a person where I can always turn to if I need support and they will basically lead you.” And we thought about, like, this is very basic concept, to install a so-called single or primary point of contact who would be coordinating everything in the background. So we did exactly that. And this has an enormous impact on the feedback which we got also in written form and in every other way. And of course we could personally have this effect of the pleasure or satisfaction that we have happy customers there.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
Boris, you’ve been incredibly generous with your insight and your experience, and I really appreciate it. I’ve very much enjoyed talking with you. I want to ask you one more question before you go. And I don’t want to make it easy. What is the single most important piece of advice that you can offer, perhaps a leader who is leading or moving into leading his or her first transformation of a major customer experience component in his or her organization? What’s the single most important piece of advice you offer them?
It would be talk to the customers, adapt and simplify, invest in your employees and repeat. Start all over again.
STEPHEN W. MAYE
And with that, Boris Tadić, vice president of board member support and transformation of data protection, legal and compliance at Deutsche Telekom in Bonn, Germany, has the last word.
Boris, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for being here.
Same here. Thank you very much.
Thank you for listening to Projectified® with PMI. If you liked this episode, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. We’d love your feedback, so please leave a rating or review.