In 2020, the world moved decisively online – and that genie is not going back into the bottle. So, creating a superior digital customer experience is critical for any business wanting to thrive in 2021 and beyond. Brands think they’re doing a great job of delivering on that mandate. Their customers don’t agree. It’s down to IT leaders to help their organizations close the gap.

The lockdown has changed our relationship with technology – forever. For example, 35 percent of customers increased their use of online banking in 2020 – and the majority will continue to do so once ‘business as usual’ resumes. So, the need to provide a seamless experience to these digital customers is paramount.

In truth, investment in the Customer Experience (CX) and in building the applications needed to support it was already a priority. The Harvey Nash – KPMG CIO Survey indicates that the top two priorities before COVID-19 – operational efficiency and the customer experience – remain the same after the pandemic has struck. Gartner also reports that 91% of organizations surveyed have CX as a primary or major goal of their digital business transformation efforts. The lockdown and the subsequent rush online have simply accelerated existing investments. After all, companies that might have considered good digital CX as a ‘nice to have’ when the many of their customer transactions were face-to-face now find that this has become a ‘must have’ with the bulk of those transactions online.

We’re Doing Great! Aren’t we?

The  fact is that merely having basic digital service capabilities isn’t enough anymore – they must be first-grade. According to Gartner, more than two-thirds of companies compete mostly on the basis of CX - if they offer a mediocre experience, their customers will opt for the products or services of competitors - and those are only a few clicks away. This penny has clearly dropped for brands, with 80% believing they provide a superior proposition.

However, this optimism is at odds with reality. According to Gartner, around 65% of B2C and 75% of B2B companies are falling behind in their CX transformations: this is creating a “delivery gap”, with only 8% of customers agreeing that the experience they get from brands is superior.) Given the primacy of customer experience in most organization’s priorities, closing this gap is something CIOs believe is a key part of their remit. However, delivering on this ambition is easier said than done: CIO are now under more pressure than ever before.

There has always been a tension between maintaining the existing IT estate and building the applications, systems and infrastructure that is needed to invest in creating the digital customer experiences of the future. That tension has now reached breaking point. ‘Keeping the lights on’ was difficult enough when employees were safely ensconced in secure corporate locations; now that they are distributed across hundreds or even thousands of individual home-working spaces, this is eating up even more resources, leaving little left over to attend to the future needs of the business.

Beyond Agile

Traditional ‘waterfall’ application development approaches are now (rightly) seen as archaic. But even so-called ‘Agile’ methodologies can’t meet the accelerated deployment schedules that businesses now demand if they rely on old ways of building software. Instead, IT leaders need to move beyond Agile to embrace a new approach to application development that embraces much higher degrees of automation, intelligence and repeatability. The IT function – and the business as a whole – must stop treating the different touchpoints and applications that comprise their digital customer journeys as silos, each of which need to be developed and managed individually by different teams developing in different technologies.

To square the circle of business expectations and scarce resources, IT leaders should embrace a modern, AI-powered platform that allows them to speed through their backlog and keep up with new technologies. One that accelerates the development process for any kind of customer application, across any touchpoint, while also delivering full flexibility. One that allows them to create an “experience system”: a set of experience components, or modules, that can easily be reused across different touchpoints and applications, essentially eliminating duplicate development work, massively reducing complexity and accelerating time to market - all the while ensuring consistency across their digital customer journeys. The application components that comprise an Experience System built on such a platform, may include a mesh of, not only UI and visual elements, but also business logic, processes, data and integrations (with third party services, APIs or existing core systems, for example). And because they are reused across the entire application portfolio, any changes made in response to changing customer preferences, regulatory requirements or competitive dynamics are made once, and  instantly replicated everywhere they are used.

In short, achieving the agility the business requires of the IT function means moving beyond Agile development methodologies into new ways of delivering software. This is the only realistic means of closing the gap between what the business believes it is delivering, the experience their customers actually get, and the speed at which they expect it.