Going agile to deliver a Connected Experience


Technology Writer

10min read

The rapid adoption pace of digital consumer experiences opens up new opportunities to make connections between businesses, brands, and their customers. Last month, we learned that Connected Experiences (CE) help customers achieve what they want quickly and easily, no matter where they started their journey, whether in-store or online.

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Going one step further, this month, we are exploring how companies are staying nimble by using Agile approaches to bring customer-centricity and rapid experimentation to enable Connected Experiences for their customers.

Historically, the Agile approaches have helped many tech companies deliver the types of experiences their users love. This is achieved by creating digital products and services that respond to user needs, informed by direct feedback and continuous iteration.

Because Agile has proven to be very effective in facilitating user collaboration, continuous learning, and faster deployment, many other companies, from the private to the public sector, are adopting this methodology.

Let’s face it, these days, if a company is losing customers, chances are these clients are taking their business to where they can get the digital experience they want. More consumers are demanding the same level of convenience and speed they’ve become accustomed to by using products and services from born-digital brands who carefully craft their user experiences through agile practices. It’s only natural that more mainstream businesses have started leveraging this approach to build their success.

How can Agile help create a Connected Experience?

Before anything else, Agile is a mindset—a way of working that focuses on user needs, rapid development, flexibility, collaboration, and responding to change. This makes Agile a methodology that’s suitable for any company, whether it’s building a product, a service, or both.

Over the past 30 years, Agile has dramatically increased success rates in software development and improved quality and speed to market, alongside boosting the motivation and productivity of product teams. Agile is now facilitating company-wide collaboration, including frontline functions across more industries; not just tech.

A Connected Experience is decidedly customer-centric. And Agile is primarily about innovating by responding rapidly to changes happening with users and their context. Here’s how Agile can help deliver a Connected Experience:

Helping companies innovate faster and focus on priorities

The proven track record of Agile can really help organizations achieve their Connected Experiences (CE) aims.

To enable CE for today’s consumers, companies need to build on modern technology. To do that, they need to employ rapid prototyping by using the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept to experiment, prioritize, and get to market faster.

This way, companies release products with just enough features and underlying structure to satisfy early customers, gather feedback, and quickly iterate. Once launched, iteration is so rapid that innovations are pushed into production in days and hours compared to months and weeks.

One of the best ways to know what digital solutions your users would adopt is by testing and getting feedback. Receiving continuous feedback from the market and customers is essential to ensure sustainable and successful innovation.

Facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders

In the past, many successful introductions of Agile usually started small and often began in product development, where software developers are most likely to be familiar with the principles.

Recently though, Agile is spreading to other functions, like customer services, with the original practitioners acting as coaches and leading to success, thus being adopted through evangelists in the rest of the company. At its heart, the new agile mindset will focus on gathering customer intelligence rather than quick wins. This choice prioritizes long-term, actionable intelligence over patchwork.  

To visualize this principle in practice, let’s say your company wants to ensure your customers can return products quickly no matter which store they bought them from. The desired business outcome will inform who should be involved in gathering feedback on how customers would want to interact with your company about returns.

Since you're starting with the user's needs, it's easier to connect back to internal stakeholders directly involved with your customer journey. Equally, engaging stakeholders with decision-making powers will ensure that new agile practices are adopted and deployed quickly.

Building learning into the process and identifying gaps

Through Agile, a culture of continuous learning through testing and iteration will deliver the best Connected Experience for your customers. Your teams will gain momentum by making frequent small improvements versus larger infrequent ones.

The key is to test your hypothesis and quickly learn from it to trigger the next best solution. In the returns examples above, let's say you hypothesized that if you add a QR code on a purchase receipt and connect it to a chatbot, it will help the customer find answers to return-related questions. This would shorten their return process by around 80%. You can test out the solution in a few stores first and see how customers respond. You can see the return data and learn from it. If successful, you can deploy it. If not, go back to the drawing board.

By continuing to test the hypothesis and measure against the outcome you're looking for, you can improve the Connected Experience (CE).

CE is not something you just go live one day and forget about—it’s a constant learning process, iterating and optimizing. And that’s where Agile can help.

Key tools to leverage for an agile mindset

Continuous customer listening, analysis, and speedy insight sharing are characteristics of exploiting the full potential of agile. Here are some of the tools and metrics your teams should employ to ensure maximum effectiveness:

1) Progress visualization tools—by using a tool such as a Kanban board and different colored sticky notes for milestones and blockers. Seeing information clearly displayed in a manner that’s familiar to all teams is helpful to the effort of pushing the needle in a common direction.  

2) Story Mapping—a method for looking at your product from the user’s perspective by arranging user stories in chronological order to show the overall picture of how that user would interact with your product. This will help the team shoot for the end-to-end experience and identify where the gaps are.

3) Metrics dashboards—to make it easy to see the performance at a single glance. They reinforce the team’s shared goal and enable the management team to provide support when certain areas are underperforming. Whether you’re measuring user adoption, Net Promoter Score (NPS), or any other indicators, make sure the desired business outcomes are agreed in advance to gauge success. 

4) Process managers—these bring together cross-functional teams that focus on a shared goal to improve customer satisfaction for a specific client journey. Empower them with direct access to C-level executives to obtain decisions quickly, as well as with a budget to implement structural changes of the customer journeys they oversee.

5) Whiteboard sessions—to be part of weekly routines for as many employees as possible. Teams that lead weekly whiteboard sessions by talking about the latest customer feedback and identify root causes of problems can motivate action, drive change, and alter behaviors, rather than serving as a purely diagnostic tool. 

Bringing together product and tech

At the beginning of their business, Starbucks focused on selling coffee beans in store for a number of years. When they noticed how customers enjoyed sampling their coffee in-store, they used agile thinking to pivot their approach to primarily sell brewed coffee to customers.

By building learning into the process and identifying gaps, Starbucks became even more successful by digitizing their business and selling brewed coffee online and via their mobile application. In this way, they ensured the collection of constant feedback from customers on seasonal offers, availability of products, and quality of service.  

Over the last year, they worked with teams with an agile mindset and used customer feedback to build new processes that employed Machine Learning. The result was impressive: they leveraged the pandemic to extend their store footprint by allowing customers from remote areas to order drinks online and collect them from a drive-in store. 

Providing a personalized customer experience

With customers in over 100 countries, the Dutch Flower Group (DFG) needed to find innovative ways to sell their products and ensure personalization at a large scale, while coordinating orders from their six different entities online.  

DFG leveraged design thinking and agile delivery methods, like user research and story mapping to determine the ideal customer journey.

​The business started with a minimal viable product (MVP) that allowed them to shift their sale process from offline to online for two of DFG’s six floral wholesale companies. Gathering early customer feedback helped them further optimize the data loads that are required during peak business hours.

Using this data, DFG launched a flexible product model that automates the process of creating products and allocates the procured lots at the flower auction. This allowed DFG to manage personalized assortments as well as provide relevant and consistent product recommendations for all their customers at a massive scale.

Further integration with their Enterprise Resource Planning systems allowed DFG to create a personalized assortment for every customer. Moreover, DFG was able to guarantee the availability of products that show on the storefront for delivery on the selected date from any grower to any customer; anywhere in the world.

Standardizing processes and roles

T-Mobile was dealing with low customer satisfaction rates and very low first call resolution rates, as their agents often forwarded calls across the organization, resulting in many handoffs.

By reorganizing their teams to include a mix of customer service agents and technical specialists, T-Mobile ensured that this collaborative approach handled complex customer requests while ensuring the learning journey continues within the team. To complement this approach and boost innovation, they used software to automate standardized processes, thus freeing time for specialists to collaborate with agents to share their knowledge and debrief after calls.

This is an excellent example of using Agile techniques to boost ownership and foster cross-team collaboration for the customer’s benefit. Their system leveraged  five agile elements to enable T-Mobile to increase first call resolution by 14%:

  • Joint teams of customer-service agents and specialists to handle complex requests
  • Digital tools used to automate standardized tasks
  • Weekly upskilling sessions where they highlight best practices
  • Classic team leads replaced by coaches
  • Administrative tasks are pushed to a support team linked to the department head.

The move to connected experiences

According to Accenture, 85% of executives believe that to compete in a post-digital world, organizations need to elevate their relationships with customers as partners. This prompted a move from the traditional customer-centric approach to the more current experience-led approach; where customers are in control of their experiences. 

No matter which of the many methods, tools, and techniques (Scrum, Kanban, Lean Development, or most likely a combination of a few) your team chooses for your unique culture and needs, you’ll find the guiding values and principles of Agile helpful in delivering CE innovations.

This takes a mindset shift if your organization isn’t already born with Agile in your DNA. The good news is that by now, you already know what success looks like.
You’ve already experienced it yourself as a customer.

What’s next?

Look for our August issue where we do a deep-dive on how to build a Connected Experience team.

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