Using IT to deliver a great Customer Experience

Opinion Paper

According to the Optus Future of Business Report 2014, 59 per cent of consumers expect to be able to interact with a real person when making contact with a business - and 67 per cent expect staff to be friendly or polite. However, only 39 per cent of businesses plan to invest in a contact centre over the next 1–2 years, while 73 per cent will invest in their website. At the same time, 72 per cent plan to use big data to understand customer behaviour.

Businesses see digital channels as the future for interacting with their customers. Of course, digital technologies have huge benefits, including greatly improved efficiencies through self-serve tools and customer insights from data analytics. But are businesses underestimating the value of personally engaging with customers? Do they really understand the longer-term consequences of using big data technologies?

Two keynote speakers at the Optus Business annual conference, Vision 2014, explored the future impact of new technology on customer experience. They came from two different perspectives, but both agreed on the importance of understanding the human consequences of adopting new systems.

The conference heard from:

  • Sherman Young, Macquarie University's Pro Vice Chancellor for Learning, Teaching and Diversity, about how academic culture was as important as technology in shaping higher education's transformation
  • Malcolm Crompton, Managing Director of Information Integrity Solutions (IIS), about how privacy and trust are becoming valuable assets as enterprises come to grips with big data technologies.


Sherman Young explained how technology was enabling big changes in the way universities deliver education services. However, he stressed that this transformation was shaped by academic culture - and what was desirable or acceptable change for customers and employees.

Young has written a number of books on the impact of technology, including The Book Is Dead and Beyond 2.0: The Future of Music, but unlike many IT commentators he doesn't see technology as the driver of change. "It's the enabler of change," he said. "And this enabler results in things not always going the way the technology folk suggest they will, because culture gets in the way."

He cited the example of Macquarie University's new library, which was built three years ago. Given the rapid adoption of ebooks and online journals, the university had an ideal opportunity to build a totally digital library.

"The reality, though, is there is an embedded culture in academia that loves books," Young said. Instead, the university adopted a blended solution. It built the first automated storage and retrieval system in an Australian library – and kept its paper-based books.

"It's a perfect example of an appropriate technology – a blended one – that's not purely a technology-based solution, but one that has a human and cultural dimension. I'm brave enough to suggest that's the sort of solution that we need to be exploring in higher education, because the human dimension is the key dimension of learning."

The university is exploring other longer-term ideas for blended solutions. It has trialled a hybrid classroom, with a physical room of students and another group situated off campus, joined together using virtual reality technology.

Like other universities, Macquarie has ramped up its digital services, because that's what its students - its customers - expect. These initiatives include:

  • an online learning portal that attracted one billion page views in 2013, with videos of lectures, details on assessment tasks, discussion forums and other resources
  • a "responsive" web design so that the portal fully supports mobile devices - to satisfy a strong demand from students
  • an increasing number of faculties that support online assessment, with academics now accepting, marking and returning assignments electronically
  • launching Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through Open Universities Australia's Open 2 Study portal.

However, many of these digital initiatives are derivative of existing services. Young calls this "remediation", where early incarnations of new media, such as videos of lectures, do little more than replicate old media - the classroom.

"What I'm interested in is the reinventions," said Young. "What can we think of in learning and teaching that has nothing to do with how we used to do things?"

Perhaps one such innovation is a solution being created for Macquarie's ancient history department. In order to share the department's rich library of ancient artefacts, the university is developing an online application that allows students to view a 3D model of each artefact from anywhere using a web browser.

But that's just the start. Using a 3D printer, teaching staff will be able to make replicas of the artefacts – so, for example, students can perform their own archaeological dig on campus.

"So we're using technology to enable our students to really engage in their discipline in a safe, exciting and hands-on way."


Malcolm Crompton focused on the impact big data was having on enterprises and consumers. He also explained how, in this era of data, building trust among customers can provide a competitive advantage.

A former Privacy Commissioner of Australia, Crompton explored both the benefits and dangers of using big data technologies. He showed how companies were using analytics to ramp up online sales and even transform whole industries by improving the customer experience. But he also provided examples of organisations that had made blunders with customer data, and had paid a big price in loss of trust – and revenue.

Crompton questioned common corporate notions that customers were willing to trade their privacy for convenience and that consumers loved highly targeted advertising. He pointed to research that Australians were among the least willing people in the world to trade privacy for convenience.1 The way to avoid these traps and encourage more openness from customers was to build a relationship – and trust – with them.

Crompton suggested a number of ways that businesses could build trust with customers:

  • Categorise your data and consider the context. He identified a number of types of data, ranging from personal information provided by the customer to details that could be inferred about a customer based on behavioural observations and analytics. "You need to consider the context in which your datasets are being used, because the levels of trust vary hugely." He said that some retailers were already backing away from using data that had been collected covertly.
  • Redefine customer-centricity. "You don't give people a 20-page privacy notice and expect them to be happy about it. That's a clickthrough in order to get to what they want." He suggested following the example of mobile apps that provided simplified permission boxes at the right time and in the right context.
  • Establish an ethical framework. "The law can’t move fast enough in this area. The way you're going to make the right decisions in your company is if you've got an ethical framework." This meant creating credible decision-making processes and safeguards for all types of data, and not just for compliance.
  • Manage risk and prepare for failure. This required creating mechanisms to prevent, detect and recover from data-related disasters. The latter was particularly important and often undervalued - to protect against an issue escalating into a legal problem. Also, he said: "The better you can look after an adverse customer experience, the better you've got that person glued on."

"Most relationships aren't instantaneous - they take time," Crompton said. "The important thing about a relationship is that as it builds, so does trust, and the exchange of information becomes more willing."


While Young and Crompton talked about digital change from completely different perspectives, both acknowledged the importance of understanding customers and stakeholders as people when making IT-based decisions.

Our Future of Business Report confirms the importance of getting the right balance between IT and human resources in order to deliver a great customer experience.

Our report found big gaps between the availability of digital tools and customers' use of them. In fact, 37 per cent of the consumers surveyed said they hadn't recently used any of an organisation's digital tools.

The report suggests some ways to increase digital adoption, such as fully integrating digital and traditional channels. However, it also points to the continued importance of human interaction when providing an outstanding customer experience.

For more details on how to create a business that your customers love, see our Future of Business 2014 report.

1 2014 EMC Privacy Index,



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