Digital Business: APIs, Apps, and the Customer Experience
By Jim Lundy
As I sit here on a plane heading to the BoxWorks conference in San Francisco, I’m reflecting on how my flight was delayed because the ground crew was waiting on a maintenance log for almost two hours. “Waiting for the maintenance log” is an old story—but that is a rat-hole I will pass over. All I could think about was that I would miss my connection and be late to my first meeting at the BoxWorks analyst day.
Being a modern, tech-y kind of guy, I immediately tweeted my displeasure with the airline. To my surprise, it promptly responded, apologizing for the delay and vowing to book me on the next flight if I missed my connection. And indeed, I did miss my connection and was secured on the following flight just as they had promised.
Now this was an impressive bit of customer relationship management and process integration under stress. Think about what some embarrassed airline staffers had to do, in public and with no notice. I assume they looked at my Twitter handle to get my name and ran it against the passenger list for the flight, then accessed the reservation system to book me on the next connecting flight. Then they flagged my seat on the original flight to free it up when my connection became impossible, keeping me double-booked until then—all without appreciable delay.
All their communication with me was done via Twitter on my iPhone. I doubt that they recognized my name as an analyst (although good analytics would have done that), but they certainly realized that, theoretically at least, the whole world was watching them—in real-time.
Well done, nameless airline, well done!
Digital Business Disruption
What does all this have to do with digital business and APIs? Well, this is the way the world will be—will have to be—in the age of consumer power. In a fitting bit of irony, I wrote about this just two weeks ago.
One disruptive impact of digital business is that businesses can no longer dictate how, when, or where to communicate or engage with their customers. Once I chose to address the airline publicly via Twitter, it behooved them to respond. I’m no one special, but I represent a flight full of upset passengers and potential prospects who they knew would resonate with my predicament. Since this was clearly negative publicity, they had to be proactive—and they were.
This is an age in which a single individual can take on the power and impact of a vast network of people, using publicly available tools built with available APIs to engage any brand or business. The individual can also access apps that will give them the pertinent information they need. In my case, for example, TripIt was the most reliable source of flight information. Throughout the whole ordeal, it gave me up-to-the-minute information on the flight delay and the likelihood that I would miss my connection.
The startling truth here is that the on-board crew, while nice, could not resolve the delay. The airline’s own mobile app was of no use to escalate anything. In fact, it had been giving me errors all morning. However, using an independent consumer app, Twitter, I got a quick response, and TripIt’s contextual flight info reassured me that I was being transferred to the right flight.
Businesses need to revisit their mobile apps, rethink their digital business strategies to focus on the user’s experience first, and leverage social networks to do so. This airline’s web and mobile apps could not duplicate what Twitter was able to do. My story ends well only because the airline’s alert staff was monitoring Twitter in real-time and had the authority and initiative to take immediate action. All businesses need to formalize this level of customer-centricity in their services and APIs.
Organizations have to realign their PR and CRM strategies to put key stakeholders and processes, especially those relating to the customer’s experience, at the center of their digital business initiatives. Digital and physical business strategies have to be integrated. If enterprises want a seamless experience for customers, this is crucial.
The key to any successful digital business is to listen and respond to consumers. This involves everything about their brands, offerings, services, communications, and engagements that affects customer relationships—which means everything.