How do you live up to your customers’ expectations? Take control
Internally you might be able to simplify a complicated ordering process, unclear stock information, or minimize price differences in channels by blaming legacy systems or the silos in the organizational structure. But your customers aren’t interested in these arguments. So how do you prevent them switching to other suppliers? The answer - take control. 

Customers are placing increasingly higher demands on their interactions with companies and brands. They expect not only a personal approach, but also consistent information during every point of contact with your company, regardless of where, when and how this takes place. 

To achieve this, you must not only know who your customer is and in what stage of the customer journey they are, but you must also link this to all of the online and offline channels, internal departments, and processes. All these aspects require unambiguous information, in other words a ‘single version of truth’ that should be available in real-time for everyone in the company that has to deal with customers.

The pathway to the single version of truth can be realised in three steps:
1.      Map your customers based on relevant points of contact during the customer journey. For example, analyzing customer data about purchases and returns in the store and on the web, and their contacts with customer service.
2.      Determine the applications your organization uses to record these points of contact and which information is captured.
3.      Discuss for each application and data source what the truth and uniformity of the data actually is and where these are captured and stored.

Focus areas for a smooth customer journey
Knowing everything about your customer does not mean that you can offer a frictionless customer journey. However, if you want to really bind a customer to you, there are two important focus areas that you need to address. The most important focus area is that all prices and promotions are streamlined. So if you announce a discount on a certain pair of trousers in the newsletter, then it must also be applied in the shop. You should also consider that members of your loyalty program must, of course, be able to enjoy that same status and benefits in all the various channels.

The second focus area concerns the service you promise. Imagine that a customer has seen a coat in your webstore and the site has informed them that their size is indeed in stock and will be delivered within a day. Well, if that information is incorrect, not only will the purchase be cancelled, but you will most likely also lose the customer due to friction in the customer experience. You therefore need a real-time feed for your inventory management system at the front-end and watertight fulfilment at the back-end.

Aligning your IT and business 
The challenge that the business presents your IT is to find a way to ensure that the current customer, product, price, and stock information is addressed across all the various touchpoints. This ensures that the customer is served in a relevant and personal way and that they get exactly what has been promised to them. By combining business functions logically, the front-end will be capable of responding quickly to changes in the market and add, replace or expand applications. The back-office functions need to be the stable base from which data and insights will be distributed towards the front office applications.

This is embodied in an application structure that is divided into three layers.
  1. The channel layer contains the functions and applications that support the customer interaction, such as the website, webshop, app, call centre, etc. These must be scalable and able to respond flexibly to fast-changing technological developments and  changing customer behavior.
  2. In the customer journey layer, you link the functions and applications that – as its name makes clear – facilitate the customer journey. Think of the loyalty program, price information, promotions, handling of returns, etc. All external and internal information streams will come together in this layer and will be linked to the corresponding customer profile. This allows you to predict behavior and compile personal offers.
  3. The third layer is, as mentioned, the stable base and includes the back-office functions and applications that guarantee the quality of the service. These include ensuring the correct and timely delivery of articles, stock management, and handling of returns.

Living up to the expectations
Our point: you can live up to the expectations of your customer if you ensure alignment between business and IT, taking in mind only one version of the truth for every data source and create an integrated and flexible infrastructure. The ‘single version of the truth’ is created when you agree what the only truth is and where it should be stored for each application and data source. Only then it will then be clear what the source is for unambiguous information about promotions, pricing, logistics and sales, and through which it will be possible to analyze this data in real-time and to distribute it to all points of contact. 

This is the second article about the four pillars of customer engagement: Be Personal, Think Borderless, Stay Connected, and Take Control.