In our fast-moving digital economy, organizations across just about every industry are faced with a stark reality: to remain competitive and deliver the best possible customer experience, they must evolve continuously. The fintech industry is a great example of this–the sector’s growth and focus on excellent customer experience has been driven by external developers rather than incumbent players.
For many companies, particularly in the service industry, improving customer experience now means developing new apps and services that will maximize the customer journey, engender deeper trust and secure customer relationships for the future.
The aim is to continuously produce innovations that create delightful customer experiences, which in turn will drive ROI. In its 2019 Technology Industry Outlook, Deloitte highlighted the fact that the “democratization of innovation” is set to be a key strategic factor in the coming years. As cloud infrastructure makes it easier to innovate at speed, “medium and small enterprises can harness powerful capabilities once limited to a select few.”
That might be a new SaaS application, for example, or the implementation of emerging tech such as AI or VR–anything that helps the company provide a more efficient or accurate customer service. A simple example could be integrating complementary, adjacent solutions to add additional value to end customers.
Companies need to innovate in order to create unexpected functions and capabilities that will delight. But how do companies go about making that a reality? In a nutshell, there are two groups that can help you innovate: your own developers and the wider developer community. Having the right people involved and the right programs in place for both of these channels will allow you to scale and deepen your innovation more effectively–and ultimately create experiences that your customers cannot live without.
The more you engage with developers inside and outside your organization, the faster you can accelerate your time-to-market for new innovations and, crucially, ensure that those innovations meet real customer needs.
Building an effective in-house development team to meet customer needs is about more than just hiring the right computer skills. Companies need to aim for a fearless, fail-fast culture that lets teams go above and beyond in answering customer needs. This need not apply to all developers–there will be some focused on refining the core product set, for whom fail-fast may not be the ideal working model. However, in the pursuit of unexpected offerings that will delight customers, a healthy attitude to both fail-fast and conventional development is essential.
Often, organizations are held back from being the best they can be by ingrained, deep-rooted cultures. The power of “the way we do things ‘round here” can be hard to crack, but good leaders must help staff buy into change as an ongoing process that will help them and the business to succeed in the long run.
That’s where the concept of experimentation and fail fast comes into play. In these environments, developer teams are given permission to try things out without having to go through multiple rounds of approvals and senior buy-in. That means they can go from an initial idea to a fully testable concept in, say, weeks rather than months or years. It also means they can run their blue-sky ideas through a crash course of reality, bumping up against unforeseen problems–what some people might consider failures, but I think of more as learnings–without being penalized for it.
When developers are given this permission to get ideas off the ground quickly, the benefits to the organization are obvious. Improved access to innovation; a greater chance of discovering more effective ways of working; and a supportive, forward-looking culture that helps to enthuse non-technical staff as much as developers themselves. The same is true for customers–they will benefit from innovations that improve their experience, surprising and delighting them with the idea they didn’t know they needed, but which exactly addresses their needs.
There are other key issues to address, particularly senior buy-in and customer-centricity. First, it’s essential that developers know their work is valued by senior leadership. Senior leaders need to trust their experts and not just allow but also champion the fail-fast model if the company is to benefit from the successful innovations that come out of it.
Second, developers need to work in close communication with customer-facing teams to ensure their efforts are directed toward innovations that will translate into improved customer experiences. In other words, it’s important developer teams innovate with the company’s core goals in mind–not just for the sake of it, however tempting that might be.
There are also pragmatic issues to be addressed, such as ensuring your APIs or SDKs are well developed, and there are good documentation/guides to help use these APIs. This is required for both in-house and external developers.
External Developer Networks
Having a wide network of development partners can also help rapidly scale innovation and deliver solutions that exceed customer expectations with speed. By building a community of great minds around the mutual benefit of market-ready innovation, organizations can unlock far more valuable projects, with positive effects for them, their customers and their partners.
An effective developer partnership works on the basis that there is a symbiotic relationship where each side has something to offer to the other. For example, the developer partner may come from a smaller company who has specific expertise and can benefit from the financial support and expertise of the larger organizations. While both sized organizations can benefit from the diverse thinking, agility and challenger mindset of the developer partnership. Whether you’re a large company looking to fast-track customer-centric innovation or a small company with a great customer-centric idea that needs a boost onto the next rung, a healthy developer network can be highly beneficial.
As an example, the accounting industry is currently undergoing a major cultural change, with accountants increasingly seeking to provide customers with value-add strategic services to maintain their competitive advantage. Technology is driving a consultancy-first service model. Accountants have access to more data than ever before, and as a result they can help clients to make effective business decisions based on new analytical insights.
However, making the jump to effective consultancy requires new tools and innovations to turn raw information into usable insights. By working in partnership with a network of cutting-edge developers, accounting software providers can help to conceive, road-test and launch user-friendly solutions.
The value of developer networks is also evident as you look at domain specific needs that might span a particular industry or a particular region. One company may not have the expertise or bandwidth to do it all–but by building effective communities of developers, an organization can expand their reach to tap into niche areas of expertise. It also gives the company the ability to deliver innovations more rapidly. Every company has a limited set of resources, and additional developer networks can help scale this innovation. For the developers, the value lies in reaching markets and customers they may not previously had access to.
Taking Innovation Out of the Lab and into the Market
Whether your company uses in-house developers or a partner network (or both) the core goal should be to hone ideas into realities through collaborative working practices. When developers and customer-facing teams understand one another, they can achieve great things.
It’s an exciting time in the industry. Technology is evolving faster every day, solving more problems and opening up new possibilities. For businesses of all varieties, harnessing the power of developers should be a core priority. It’s not a question of pursuing innovation for the sake of it–it’s about taking practical steps to ensure you maximize the positive impact of tech on your customer experience.