The Age of Transparency
January 12, 2016
By Ellen Falci, Product Manager, Clarabridge
Business pundits and analysts love to label the progress of the corporate world. Eras are named, differentiators are determined, and winners and losers are lauded.
We’ve previously experienced the so-called Manufacturing, Distribution, and Information ages. Now, we are in the midst of what many call the Age of the Customer, an era that favors the companies with the best Web presence, social media strategy, online reputation, and customer-centric decision making.
Can we predict what the next era will be? Technology and design theories say yes.
Each era is built around the technological advancements of its time. Organizations that embrace and master new tools gain marked advantages. Time and time again, combinations of these tools with new innovations create fresh spaces for differentiation. In fact, each era has generated advancements in technology that have exponentially increased the pace of future developments. Take a look at the timeline described in the Forrester report “Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer” by David M. Cooperstsein:
The length of each era appears to follow a half-life principle, in which the amount of time it takes to transition to the next era is half the length of the previous one. Following this pattern, we can project that, within the new few years, customer experience will become corporate table stakes and a new differentiator will emerge.
Transparency as differentiator
Technology theory emphasizes that technological evolution is combinatorial. In other words, innovations are the direct descendants of their predecessors, combining features, developments, and priorities. Given this heredity, we should expect that the next era will yield an environment in which customers (Customer Age) leverage the massive amounts of information available to them (Information Age) in order to make more informed purchasing decisions about where their products come from (Distribution Age) and how they are produced (Manufacturing Age).
In fewer words: transparency will dominate. Companies that can adopt this principle will see differentiated success.
The infrequency of true corporate transparency adds to its appeal as an emerging differentiator. According to design theory, modularity (keeping information and processes separate) is a strategic choice for efficiency because it minimizes distractions. Many companies use this principle to streamline operations; unfortunately, they also tend to treat their customers like additional modules in their internal structures. They only grant customers access to favorable information through tightly controlled channels. However, this approach is an unfair extension of this paradigm. The customers’ experiences with a brand are the sum of many different interactions with many different departments; customers are not extra modules!
There is hope, however. Design theory also emphasizes that in modular systems, knowledge of the components and their relationships empowers greater understanding and empathy of the whole system. To borrow a popular mantra, “sharing is caring.” Applying this theory to CEM, we can assert that an informed customer will be most satisfied with their experience.
Now, asking a customer to understand a complex corporate infrastructure on their own is unreasonable. The customer has little context for understanding why certain policies, products, services are the way they are. When an outcome is unsatisfactory, they get frustrated and confused. These emotions are revealed through their survey responses, tweets, Facebook posts, call center complaints and other feedback channels. In many organizations, a single group owns a specific channel and may never see the inputs from other sources. Here, the corporate modularity returns to bite us in the rear.
This is why organizations need dedicated, well-equipped customer experience teams with access to true omni-source, intelligent text analytics tools. Customer experience practitioners function opposite their customers as internal systems integrators. They are tasked with understanding and uncovering the corporate dependencies that affect the customer’s experience. Their knowledge of the entire modular system is essential as they can then design solutions that will help customers understand where they fit into the system and develop empathy and patience when problems arise.
The CX team can make this happen by looking at the content being shared with customers, the design of the information, and the platform for information delivery.. The growth of mobile and responsive technologies provides a rich opportunity for companies to collect, combine, and present content from modules throughout the organization in order to be transparent about their business. The result of such efforts is an empowered and empathetic customer.
Take United Airlines, for example. Their mobile app shows information about plane statuses, lounges, customer account level, in-flight amenities, upgrade lists, boarding passes and more. Although this content is owned by distinct departments, it is smartly exposed in a customer-friendly way. It is presented in a space that is familiar to the customer (the mobile phone), and often includes unsavory details like reasons and estimates of delays. This trio of useful content, suitable delivery mechanism, and complete transparency inspires a customer’s trust, loyalty, and satisfaction.
The desire to gain a customer’s trust certainly isn’t new, but technological limitations have created significant hurdles to achieving this goal in the past. The current focus on customer-centric decision making coupled with some tremendous technological innovations in networked technologies yields a corporate environment in which companies can start putting CEM into the customer’s hands. The key to this promised success, though, is an unrelenting commitment to transparency.
Clarabridge’s blog, Sentiments, helps businesses incorporate customer sentiment and feedback into their business strategy. Published by Clarabridge, Sentiments speaks to customer experience professionals, marketers, customer care leaders and anyone who wants to make informed, strategic decisions that delight customers. Follow Sentiments on Twitter @Clarabridge.