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Is Enterprise Architecture accountable for improving customer experience?

Is Enterprise Architecture accountable for improving customer experience?

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A recent experience with poor customer service has got me thinking about the role of EA in addressing customer experience issues. 

One of the last things I was working on, while still in Microsoft IT, was working on an initiative to systematically help improve customer experience.  With that experience fresh in mind, I was dealing with an issue with my Tivo DVR today where the Tivo box started to misbehave.  I began a chat with their representative and the experience was less than ideal.  (If someone from Tivo wants to chat, just drop me a line for details).

That got me thinking.  Can EA help?  In general, can EA be part of the solution to problems caused by poor customer experiences? 

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Customer Services is important to the success of any organization

First off, I’d like to say that customer experience is one of the most important elements of the highly competitive online world.  The Web has made it very easy for customers to abandon their existing relationships and switch to new ones.  Even the slightest provocation can send a customer in search of a competitor, and the features of a product are not as “sticky” as they once were.  It is increasingly easy for new small companies to appear that copy all of the key features of a technology and release a competing product, sometimes within a few months of the first one.  The results can be fierce competition that, unfortunately, is often addressed in courtrooms instead of the marketplace (Samsung vs. Apple, Google vs. Microsoft, Apple vs. Microsoft, etc.).

Some companies will not pay proper attention to their customer’s experience.  This is fairly common, especially in manufacturing companies where there are both software and hardware components involved.  For some reason, the fact that two different engineering teams are involved often produces a disjointed experience.  (Apple has been leading the way in addressing these kinds of problems.  The rest of us need to do so as well).

What are the questions you must always be ready to answer?  (The Ten Strategic Questions)

In general, an Enterprise Architect assists with the development of strategic alignment, not by deciding what is important, but making sure that executives don’t miss the important stuff while they are overwhelmed with the mundane.  One way to anchor your analysis to ensure that YOU don’t miss the important stuff is to consider some of the high level tools suggested in traditional strategic analysis… tools like SWOT analysis, Five Forces analysis, and partner accountability mapping.  However, most of those tools do a poor job of considering the importance of customer experience to enterprise success.

The model that I use is the EA metamodel behind business models.  In a prior post, I created a rationalized ontology for the business model canvas that addressed the gaps left by Osterwalder in his analysis.  However, in keeping with the effort to make that kind of model useful, I followed the pattern of Osterwalder and created a visual table that represented the corrected business model ontology.

image

The guidance that you can get from this is to look at each of the blocks in the canvas and consider the possibility that you have not missed anything important in that block.  Therefore, if you use this model, you would ask the following ten questions:

  • Are we targeting the right customers for the growth that we need?  (Customer Profile)
  • Do we have a good understanding of what our customers want and need? (VOC)
  • Do we have a compelling value proposition to address the needs and demands of those customers? (Value Proposition)
  • Are we developing products and services that deliver on our value proposition, or is there a gap in our products and/or services that we need to address? (Products and Services)
  • Have we considered all of the channels we should be using, or are we using too many channels, to distribute our products and services to our customers? (Channels)
  • Do we have a good idea of the resources we need to deliver on our value proposition? (Resources)
  • Do we know how to use our resources sufficiently well to produce the results that customers expect? (Required Competencies)
  • Have we addressed all the cost and revenue implications of the resources, competencies, and channels that we’ve selected? (Cost and Revenue Models)
  • Are we reaching our customers in the geographies and locales in which they live and work, and if not, why not? (Geographies and Locales)
  • Have we relied on partners in the right way, leveraging their strengths and the cost implications of using them without opening ourselves to problems of key dependencies? (partner profiles)

This list of questions includes the core questions that we need to be asking in order to address customer experience issues at the strategic level.  This is a far more comprehensive list that “5 forces” or “SWOT” and will help you to ensure that you are not missing anything. 

How does Enterprise Architecture address customer experience?

The actual experience of a customer is a function of their needs and your products.  If a customer needs to drive a nail, a hammer will do.  If the customer needs to drive their car to an unfamiliar place, then a Global Positioning System with turn-by-turn directions would be more compelling.  If you offer the customer a product that does NOT meet their needs (like a GPS that only shows maps, but doesn’t tell the driver where and when to turn), then they will not be loyal to the product.  Their experience will be poor and they will quickly find better products.

Customers don’t want ten inch drills.  They want ten inch holes.

When doing a strategy workshop, it is best for the Enterprise Architect to walk in to the workshop with all their preparation in place.  Walking in unprepared will produce really poor results.  To be prepared, the Enterprise Architect will have already collected the list of “proposed strategies” for the coming period and will have analyzed those strategies from the standpoint of the organization’s business model(s).  In other words, for each of the questions above, which ones are being answered by strategy.  Now, for the kicker, which ones are not? 

Customer experience may already be covered by a strategy, and if it is, you have to do very little.  Simply make sure that everyone sees the relative value of that strategy when compared to others (like reducing costs or negotiating new boundaries with existing partners).  That is not simple, but not as difficult as the alternative: no strategy for customer experience.

On the other hand, let’s assume that there are goals, or objectives, or themes (rarely actual strategies) already articulated that address the other areas of business model considerations, like costs, or products, or partners.  Address the lack of customer focus in your interviews PRIOR to the strategic workshop.  Ask your key stakeholders what their customers need.  Specifically don’t ask for how those needs are being met… ask what the needs are!  Make sure that you plant, in the minds of your stakeholders, the seeds of doubt: do we KNOW what our customers want and need?  Is it written down?  Would our customers agree with what we wrote down?

During the workshop, propose an initiative to capture the needs of the customers (of each business model) and to map the products and services to those needs.  This will let you answer the question: are our products and services meeting the needs of customers?  This may involve the development of user personas, scenarios, and competitive surveys.  This initiative, when complete, will provide the ammunition that you will need later to propose initiatives to address customer experience gaps. 

Note that gaps can exist in many places… not just in the products themselves, but also in the customer service experience that occurs when customers are not happy with their products or have an issue with them. 

Conclusion

Enterprise Architecture is a strategic planning function that uses a methodical scientific approach to address the gaps between the goals of a business and the execution of strategy needed to reach them.  Using the TEN STRATEGIC QUESTIONS above, Enterprise Architects can capture opportunities and oversights that senior executives may miss.  One of those key questions addresses customer experience issues. 

Therefore, when an organization fails to deliver good customer experiences, Enterprise Architecture, when used properly, can help to address the situation.

  • Nick,

    I think in general it is correct that the customer focus or for IT the user focus should be one of the more important factors for architecture. But as an architect you have to cautious with the answers. I like to refer to an old post from Jakob Nielsen back in 2001, which shows some problems of asking the customer.  www.useit.com/.../20010805.html

    From my point of view there are some things to consider when retrieving the needs and to know what to choose when to get the real needs.

    - Is it architecture for a "disruptive" innovation, then it is hard to get the needs from customers, because it is likely that their needs are based on existing technologies. For example, did any customer express the need for an "iPad like device" in 2005?

    - Is it an architecture for more evolutional change, it is important to talk to (or watch the behavior of) the real customers and not some middlemen who claim to know what the customer needs, because they had the need long time ago.

    - People tend to think inside their comfort zone. It helps to ask the "Why" question repeatedly, to distinguish a real need from a habit or wish. (This is nothing the people will like you for.)

    - Sometimes ask yourself are we doing the right thing instead of are we doing the things right. Sometimes needs just vanish, when you turn the problem 90 degrees.

    Eiko

  • I agree Eiko.  The point of the canvas is to show that the wide array of questions to ask don't focus ONLY on customers, but on all of the aspects of a business model.  EA is accountable for all of them.  Yes, customers are integral to one aspect, but not all of them.

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