Improving the customer experience in the digital age: Interview with Ian Worley, Morgan Stanley

Ian Worley

The ways in which customer interact with companies has moved on significantly in the last ten years. Little more than a decade ago, an organization was on the cutting edge if it had a website through which it sold a few products. Fast forward a few years and now an organization would be seen as technologically backward if it didn’t have some form of web presence and ecommerce facility.

And now, as more consumers move onto social media and mobile platforms, the challenges for businesses are slowly multiplying posing challenges to the IT infrastructure, organizational set up, and processes of our organizations. How do you respond effectively to customers across all the touch-points that are now possible?

In this PEX Network interview, Ian Worley, Executive Director ISGT at Morgan Stanley, discusses the challenges of effective customer experience in the new world of digital and social media, comments on the trouble with organizational silos, and offers insight into how he believes the role of IT needs to change to better support the customer needs.

Editor’s note: this is a transcript of a video interview. It has been edited for readability. To watch the original interview, please go here: Customers and the trouble with business in a multi-platform world

PEX Network: How would you define customer experience management?

Ian Worley: Customer experience management is fundamentally about trying to find ways to ensure that customers have a surprisingly delightful and effective experience with your business across all channels. Therein lies the fundamental problem: customers don’t see businesses as channels. They see businesses as businesses, they see them as brands. So it’s being able to ensure that all of those touch points are working consistently so that when a customer comes to you asking for what they want, you’re able to respond effectively. That means understanding customers, understanding what they need, and having the tools and the processes in place to be able to respond effectively to those needs as they change.

PEX Network: Do you think businesses are becoming more aware of the importance of the customer experience?

Ian Worley: I think businesses have always been aware of how important the customer experience is. That’s an age old problem with business. The challenge comes with large organisations - with multi-channel organisations - and the kind of division of labor that naturally occurs when you’re trying to figure out how to structure a business that has lots of different silos. The efficient way to make a business work is to chop it up into silos and gives those silos responsibility. The problem with that, of course, is that those silos then have various people sometimes doing the same things, sometimes with very deep skill sets that no longer talk to each other. The customer doesn’t understand those divisions, and the people within the silos don’t have the ability to understand what’s happening in the other silos. Coordination across business silos becomes a problem.

You also have businesses that will also sometimes set their channels against each other. But even when that’s not the case you’ll often have people spending their time focusing on how to improve their area because they don’t feel like they either have the authority or the knowledge to be able to change or influence any other parts of the business. There’s rarely anyone in the organisation whose role it is to join all those things up. In a large business, you’re working at such a high level that the detailed aspects of what makes a good customer experience are too far remote from you to be able to deal with.

What has to happen is you need someone at the top to coordinate the strategy, but then you also need ways of connecting people at the customer facing parts of the business and empowering them to be able to respond effectively. And I think those are things that are actually very hard for most businesses to do because they run counter to the logic of how you organize businesses in order to be efficient.

PEX Network: We don’t often think of IT as a customer-facing function. How do you think IT fits into helping - or hindering - the customer experience?

Ian Worley: I think IT both hinders and helps the customer experience by the very nature of the fact that most of our customer experiences today are enabled or facilitated by technology. Whether you’re phoning a call centre and using IVR - the systems that they use to understand who you are when you call - or whether you’re going online and using a website. Even when you go in-store now you can get people with headsets who are talking to the back office or you get [customer self-service] kiosks.

Technology is everywhere and as we enter the "internet of things" where devices and service and things are all joined up and technology is mediating that, you have the opportunity for massive catastrophes and you have the opportunity for delivering really great experiences.

I think the companies that don’t think of IT as customer facing are probably at risk of creating more problems for themselves and if you look at companies like Apple, you look at companies like Virgin, you look at companies like First Direct, even Zara on the High Street, where technology is seen as an enabling force in the way in which they engage with their customers in any of those channels, and they are companies which are winning, and I think that’s the thing that people need to look at. It’s not some geeks in a back room writing software. It’s people actually creating the tools that are going to enable you as a business to be successful.

PEX Network: Finally, what would you say is the biggest challenge confronting a company trying to improve the customer experience and how would you overcome it?

Ian Worley: I think the biggest challenge that companies trying to improve their customer experience have is fundamentally looking at their business holistically. I think it’s very easy for businesses to focus on themselves, on how they work, their performance or operational performance, their efficiencies and all the other things that make a business tick, and I also think that companies collect a lot of metrics about their performance, about their customers, about what’s going on, and they see the world analytically. They see customers as data and not as people.

I’m reminded of an experience that I had with Virgin Airlines not long ago where there was a very long queue at the airport and all the other airlines had long queues, we were all sitting there, and you could see people getting very frustrated because there weren’t enough people at the desk. There were clearly some other issues in the airport that were affecting Virgin’s service. Virgin sent the people who were coming out to look at your passports not just to look at the passports, but to begin to ask people about where they were coming from, where they are going, how their holiday was, and they started getting people in the line to talk to each other. And within ten, 15 minutes you had this entire queue of people that were standing twice as long as they were meant to be standing in the queue feeling very good about their experience.

I think it’s seeing customers as people first and not as numbers, and then seeing your business as a holistic service to those people, which is actually the real challenge because, again, a problem with the way in which you structure businesses is that you see them as a source of income – or potentially problems! – and not necessarily as human beings. I think spending time with customers, getting to know customers, seeing how they interact with you, with other businesses, and understanding that is actually probably very difficult for most companies.