Thrilling our clients with innovation and impact – it’s not just rhetoric. This belief is instrumental for our clients’ success. In 2018, we announced the first class of Chief Strategists, who provide vision and leadership to help our clients remain competitive. Get to know each of our strategists as they share their unique insights on their areas of expertise.
Having a strong customer experience (CX) strategy is essential for understanding your customers and incrementally improving touchpoints along the customer journey. Consumer expectations are at an all-time high with 80 percent of customers saying the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. This stems from the variety of digital channels that consumers (and business buyers) use daily.
56 percent of consumers (including 66% of business buyers) actively seek to buy from the most innovative companies
Mark Polly, Chief Strategist of Customer Experience Platforms, has more than 35 years of strategic technology advising experience. He and his team build great customer, partner, and employee experiences. We recently spoke to Mark and learned more about his aspirations as a chief strategist, his perspective on customer experience solutions, and his life beyond this new role.
How would you describe your domain of expertise?
Mark Polly: My primary focus is on the actual technology used in a customer experience environment and takes into account my experience with digital platforms such as web content management, portals, search systems, marketing platforms, and marketing systems.
Looking to the future, my team and I are expanding our focus to understand how emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), relate to those customer experience platforms. It’s quite a broad range of technology, but the common thread is they all connect with the customer.
What does this new role as a Chief Strategist mean to you?
MP: In this role, my goal is to help our clients understand the technology that they need to have in place, why it’s important, and how it integrates and affects all parts of their business.
Enterprise leaders want to understand the need for implementing certain platforms and the business value they provide. Then, they want to know how to implement those solutions. As a chief strategist, I am able to answer these questions for our clients. My team also helps clients with pragmatic strategies. These strategies help them choose solutions that will improve their business over the next two-to-three years, as opposed to 10 or 15 years down the road.
I also view my role as a way to share Perficient’s thought leadership with the market. We have particular areas of interest and expertise to share, so I spend a lot of time doing blogging outreach, attending or speaking at conferences, and writing blog posts.
For example, I recently researched and wrote a blog post on a concept that I find very interesting – how consumers focus on what they want to hear and not what your company wants to tell them. Extensive research conducted on the topic indicates that there’s a big disconnect between types of content consumers actually pay attention to and the content that marketers prioritize for products or services they’re trying to sell.
It was very revealing how, even today, brands can track responses from customers to understand what they’re saying and get their feedback. And yet, brands continue to send the wrong messages – things that they don’t really care about. Not only did I find this topic to be insightful, but I expect many business leaders will as well.
Why does strategy matter for creating a great customer experience?
MP: Today’s enterprises are complex, multifaceted machines. As you think about going through any kind of digital transformation that focuses on the customer, you really have to understand the entire business and all of its moving parts, or you risk failure. We’ve seen it happen, where a company was only focusing on one part of the business and completely missed another equally important part, and so their transformation was unsuccessful.
Your strategy identifies all those different areas that play a part in the transformation and allow you to make sure they all work together so your business is moving in the right direction.
What advice or tips do you have for developing a strategy?
MP: Take a step back from an individual solution or technology, and consider what you are really trying to accomplish. What do the next couple of years look like for your business? Once you’ve established this, then you can determine how to go about implementing your solution.
Seeing the “big picture” for your company is important when developing a strategy. However, taking a pragmatic approach is equally as important. A strategy is only useful if you can actually execute it.
When developing your strategy, create a focused, practical roadmap. Consider what is realistic for your business and if you can implement the strategy within a timeframe of one to three years. In reality, things change too quickly beyond that.
Think Like a Chief Strategist
How does your team help clients on their digital transformation journey?
MP: Customer experience platforms are sometimes the tip of the spear for digital transformation. When you’re going through digital transformation, the focus should always be on what you are doing to enhance the customer’s experience with your company.
Customers are experiencing your brand across all kinds of platforms and channels. Your web presence is important but so is the efficiency of your call center and the functionality of your mobile app. My team looks at all the customer touchpoints of our clients’ business and ensures they are positive experiences.
What questions do you ask a client when creating a customer experience strategy?
MP: We first ask clients, “What systems are you using now, and why are you using them?” I always think of a concept identified in the “re-engineering the corporation” era, which said overwhelming friction occurs when a company’s information technology isn’t aligned with business strategy. Understanding this dynamic, which includes the current business and technology state, the culture, and a client’s approach to technology, helps us identify gaps and frame what is possible from a strategy perspective.
Next, we ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” (We refer to this as your “future state.”) The ultimate goal of a strategy is moving to a desired future state. By identifying that future state, we can craft a strategy to get our clients there. Sometimes, we discover competing ideas on the future state, an incomplete vision of the future state, or even a lack of understanding of what’s possible. Our questions try to help stakeholders identify and agree on a future state when it’s not clear and to identify any constraints that may affect the strategy.
Finally, we ask, “Is your organization ready for the kinds of changes you’ll have to make to get to that future state?” When clients overlook this last question, it dramatically affects the success of a strategy implementation.
Change is hard. It often requires so much organizational change, training, and buy-in. When you don’t adjust the strategy to take all of this into account, the strategy implementation will ultimately fail. Of course, there are ways to help organizations navigate significant changes, so we make sure the strategy includes elements of organizational change management.
Beyond the World of Strategy
Tell us about yourself, and your interests when you’re not wearing the Chief Strategist hat.
MP: I spend a lot of my time doing homeowner kinds of things, being the handyman and fixing or building things. I just finished building a new mantel and hearth for our fireplace. I dabble in photography, especially wildlife when I can sneak up on some. I also have grandchildren and spend time keeping up with them by going to soccer, football, and gymnastics.
Finally, I enjoy playing golf and traveling. Recently, my wife and I started traveling more when we can get away!