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October 5, 2017

Digital is rapidly forcing changes in business models and customer expectations. Centralized functions have given way to federated structures. The erstwhile waterfall model is becoming a constraint for the cultural changes and complexities introduced by digital. On the development front, the Agile methodology, combined with the DevOps culture, is changing development, testing and release processes. In addition to involving all stakeholders (customers included), from the outset, these modern methods also include approaches such as Behaviour Driven Development (BDD) and Design Thinking. These are great advancements, but only if they can positively impact overall Customer Experience (CX). Lets explore this line of thinking with a few examples.

During the festive season, a Canadian bank rebranded its ATMs as Automated Thanking Machines. Along with cash, the ATMs also dispensed thank you notes, gift certificates and coupons. The thanking experience also extended to the banks physical branches and their online banking services. The choice of gifts was based on customer data obtained from the banks CRM system. The promotion quickly went viral on social media the place where it all mattered. Convergence of digital forces such as the cloud, CRM systems, analytics and social media resulted in a highly improved, superior CX, which in turn generated customer trust, loyalty and brand value.

On the other hand, lets take a look at a not-so positive CX story – the United breaks guitars protest song by a dissatisfied customer, whose guitar was severely damaged by United Airlines baggage handlers and refused compensation, became an instant hit on YouTube and iTunes, and a huge embarrassment for the company. The song sent Uniteds stock price crashing to an all-time low! More recently, a large hotel chain refused entry to three dogs belonging to a family who evacuated their flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The hotel had a no-pets policy, but as the photos of the soaked and scared animals in the parking lot hit Twitter, protests grew louder and louder till the hotel publicly apologised.

Besides substantiating the need for a superlative CX, the examples also reinforce certain important points. Firstly, in addition to being highly differentiated and better relative to competition, CX must also be consistent across all channels and both digital and physical touch points (in the bank example, the bank extended its promotion to physical branches alongside its other channels). Secondly, responding to customer queries alone is not enough. Socially connected businesses must also understand and anticipate customer moods, needs and sentiments. Therefore, helpdesks and voice call centres are being complemented with chat bots that engage customers with human-like conversations. The chat transcripts provide good insights on customer preferences and help address needs proactively.

While digital convergence makes all this possible, the cloud, with its ability to dynamically provision infrastructure, offers the most compelling business model. The clouds tremendous potential extends beyond infrastructure to positively impact CX. So, if your cloud strategy and business case is only about reducing costs, improving availability, and scaling dynamically, you are risking investment. For clouds true potential to surface, it must combine and work in unison with two other digital forces – Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). While RPA automates manual tasks, AI, with its machine learning ability, promises new levels of intelligence in IT systems development and testing included. This convergence of cloud and cognition drives superior CX.

In all of this, analytics plays an important role: it measures digitals success and powers superior CX with sentiment analysis and consumer insights. The insights form the basis for strategies and personalized solutions across social, digital and physical channels. AI-driven cognitive technologies are also being used for validating social media data, sifting the real sentiment from the noise.

Customer data is the new currency, but this data must also be protected. Data and privacy regulation mandate caution when handling customer information. Quality Engineering (QE) must play the custodian and guardian roles QE and testing must own data security discipline, and digitals vision and strategy for organizations. In the digital way of things, QE is gaining a lot more importance and traction. In my opinion, its also the critical success factor for digital. When entire business models are being reimagined, QE must undergo transformation as well to assure all is well behind the scenes systems, processes and data. With the right blend of process, competency and automation, QE is best positioned to drive digital convergence at the perfect intersection of business and technology. The need of the hour is for QE teams to move from reactive testing to proactive business consulting and strategy development.

Digital is moving ahead at an unprecedented pace. Automated thanking machines and other exciting use cases are just the tip of the iceberg. An entire revolution has just begun. If you are wondering where to begin, the Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon (GAFA) model could be a good starting point. It shrink-wraps and converges analytics, experience, innovation and social. Once in place, you could supplement the model with newer, instant gratification techniques such as gamification, rewards, social media engagement and listening. Some thoughts on these emerging trends have been shared on this #ThinkAssurance forum. Let us keep the comments coming and the discussion going.

Sasmita Patanaik is the delivery partner for metal, mining and construction customers globally for TCS' Assurance Services Unit. With 17 years experience in IT program and quality management and consulting, she has worked across different sectors including transportation, life sciences, retail, and metal and mining, across various geographies. She has a strong passion for quality guardianship and next gen digital assurance. Recently, she also underwent the SAFe Agilist training which aims at creating a mindshare among stakeholders to adopt Agile.


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