It is easy to have grand ideas about how incredible the customer experience could be.

These ideas can be quickly brought to ground by legacy IT issues that plague so many enterprises.

When Econsultancy released the Integrated Customer Experience report, I took the opportunity to analyse the data further to discover what behaviours had created the greatest benefits to the customer experience.

From this research I identified seven behaviours and attributes that were published as a whitepaper.

Of these habits, the one that has resonated with readers is the need to have a unified technology platform.

The reason for this connection with readers is that for many organisations the customer experience is being held back by legacy IT systems. The complaints I commonly hear centre around integration, data access, adaptability, performance and resource availability.

In some organisations these legacy platforms were implemented 10 to 20 years ago and can only be accessed via a text prompt in a secure bunker.

Another common issue is that these legacy systems sit right at the heart of the organisation where they are responsible for core operational processes. Like a heart transplant, removing these systems requires expertise, expense and comes with a degree of risk.

Let me elaborate with an example based on a real story.

The requirement was relatively simple; when a prospective customer requests a quote and then doesn’t accept it, the marketing team want to send an email with a personalised offer to encourage conversion.

Marketing make a strong start by procuring an industry leading Email Service Provider (ESP) capable of sending a personalised, triggered message.

Now all they need to do is feed the ESP with customer and quote data. It’s at this that things get complicated.

Regardless of the source, all quotes are generated and stored in the Quote Management System (QMS). QMS was cobbled together by an IT contractor some 10 years ago using several off the shelf industry components.

Documentation is scant and the contractor is no longer on the scene. After all this solution was only meant to be a temporary solution until investment for a new system became available. Unsurprisingly the investment never arrived.

While the QMS holds details of every quote generated by the company, it doesn’t hold customer data. That’s in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution.

The CRM was built recently using an industry standard platform. As an operational system, data held in the CRM is copied across to data warehouses for reporting and analysis. We’ll call this the Marketing Database (MDB).

As you’ll have worked out; the ESP is going to require quote information from the QMS and customer data from the MDB. Getting these two sources into the ESP requires the union and analysis of data from both systems. This can’t be run during business hours as it may have a negative affect on the QMS.

Example of data transfer

Diagram showing the data transfer process that takes two days.

The net result is a process that takes two whole days for data to be passed between systems, processed out of hours and then handed to the ESP. Two days is far too long and in many cases customers have already gone on to use a competitor.

Sound familiar? It certainly is for the CMOs and Marketing Directors I speak with. Whether it’s retail, financial services, B2B or utilities the problems remain.

Overcoming the legacy system headache

When faced with these issues there is a temptation to accept the problem and carry on. After all customers return to the business despite the lack of a joined up customer experience right?

That’s the wrong answer. Let me assume that because you follow and read Econsultancy you know that a multichannel customer experience is critical to business success.

In which case the right answer is to not give in. To find a way to change the status quo and create an incredible, integrated, multichannel customer experience.

From the seven habits research and my anecdotal experience as a consultant I’d recommend three approaches to take.

1. Focus on the multichannel customer journey

Focus on building the idea and concept of the ideal customer experience.

With the customer experience sketched out, begin to share and improve it. Include others in the design process and gain their buy in. Map organisational silos against the journey to understand who does what.

Identify where the customer experiences pain and pleasure in their journey and how the business creates value for the customer. Seek to understand which IT systems are involved in each phase.

Specifically work out when and where customer data is captured and stored.

Whilst this may not address the specific issue of legacy system issues, it will give you a shared vision of where you’re trying to get to. Having a simple to understand vision will be vital in the next stage…

2. Break down the marketing vs IT silo

Our analysis of data found that companies that were successfully delivering an integrated customer experience had built multi-disciplinary teams.

Depending on the make up of the company this could include people with backgrounds in IT, marketing, operations or finance.

Despite the importance of these relationships, the marketing vs IT relationship is often under serious strain. Having worked in both camps, I can understand the clash of personality types and working practices that leads to poor collaboration.

The priorities and objectives of each team are often different. IT has to ensure the lights remain on for critical business systems and ensuring a level of operational efficiency. Marketing carries a responsibility for lead generation and top line sales.

I appreciate that many CIOs are realigning their departments with overall business objectives but this may create further blurring of responsibilities. Similarly CMOs are making greater technology investments to reach and connect with customers.

Again this selection of technology by non-technicians can build a level of conflict between the parties.

Whatever the cause of the contention, both parties need to unite around the shared vision of the customer experience. The benefit of this is ability to find solutions to legacy system challenges.

Whether the system needs fully replacing or extending, the case that marketing and IT can make together is so much stronger than a single business case.

3. Find value fast

Swapping out a legacy system is likely to be expensive and difficult. As I stated previously, this type of work is fraught with risk and disruption to the core business. Because of this it’s preferable in the first instance to prove that their is value in changing the system.

In the example above a new piece of integration software could have improved processing time. Alternatively some on page Javascript that scrapes form fields and completion status could offer near real time marketing.

It is likely that creating such workarounds will require some trade-off with the original requirements. However having achieved the workaround you can prove that the approach can create value.

Use this evidence to build the case for further investment in replacing or at least improving legacy systems.

Your experience with legacy systems

What’s been your experience of integrating legacy systems into the customer experience? I’d love to hear your anecdotes, successes and war stories. Please share in the comments below.