How Database Technology Decisions Affect Customer Experience

Today’s customers expect a seamless, intelligent, and personalized experience that operates at the speed of the cloud and continuously available. To deliver an optimal customer experience, enable you to stay ahead of competitors. You need a distributed, intelligent, and responsive architecture which only possible when the right database is in place.

How Database Technology Decisions Affect Customer Experience
How Database Technology Decisions Affect Customer Experience. Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Read this article to learn how database technology decisions can affect the ability to deliver either transformational customer experience or lackluster, dissatisfying encounter that benefits competitors.

Table of contents

For Transformational Customer Experience, Cloud Apps Must Deliver Real-Time Value at Epic Scale
Rethink Your Architecture
Highly Connected Data Holds Key to Transformational Customer Experience
The Power of Understanding Your Customers
Choosing Database Architecture that Never Fails Customers
The Role of the Database in Ensuring a Better Customer Experience

For Transformational Customer Experience, Cloud Apps Must Deliver Real-Time Value at Epic Scale

Today’s world is interacting at every level including consumers, business customers, and employees through cloud applications to transform customer experiences.

So what is a cloud application? Any application which has many geographically distributed endpoints (e.g., browsers, mobile devices, or machines) should be considered a cloud application and treated accordingly.

Cloud applications are expected to be always available, intensely transactional, and instantaneously responsive machines or users are using the application. The applications should be designed to deliver real-time value at an epic scale and provide anticipated intelligent and personalized customer experience. Even more important, however, is their performance: They must scale and work at the speed of the cloud.

The impact of these applications on business has been transformative. In today’s digital economy, whether to use cloud applications is not in question. But determining how your organization will make use of cloud applications is.

At one end of the spectrum are “digital natives.” Digital natives are businesses that have been born in the cloud and whose very business model relies on cloud applications and often cloud services. These companies have set the bar for omnichannel personalization, performance, and availability that customers have come to expect from both online and brick-and-mortar storefronts. Recommendations based on prior purchases or usage, fraud alerts based on unusual behavior, coupons or incentives based on buying habits, and a consistent experience across all platforms are among the customer expectations that digital natives have pioneered. Also, as the footprint for the internet-of-things grows, so too does the need for real-time reporting and alerts for every connected device, sensor, and application.

These expectations have spilled over to traditional brick and mortar businesses, and especially global organizations — many of which are centuries old, and customers expect similar seamless usability and performance from them. All applications in all locations must be able to move at the speed of the cloud. To achieve this, they need an underlying technology that can scale intelligently with 100 percent uptime, and that often means an infrastructure shift to bring them up to par with digital natives.

Data is paramount and how that data is organized and accessed is critical. Rarely are all of the data necessary to deliver this value contained in a single database or data center. Therefore, how it is connected makes all the difference.

To deliver the customer experience for today’s user’s demand, database infrastructure must be able to offer:

  • Distributed anytime, anywhere availability
  • Scalability and responsiveness
  • Real-time intelligence

At one time, scalability referred to adding memory to a motherboard or another server in a rack. But now scalability is about increasing cluster in the cloud or on-prem with zero downtime. Applications must be able to deliver real-time value at a huge scale both personalized and intelligent.

Many organizations, however, continue to rely on long-standing legacy databases. While many of these databases were likely once considered the gold standard, they are not designed for the current business environment and are incapable of delivering the customer experience that sets cloud applications apart.

Legacy databases cannot deliver the performance or intelligence companies need to deliver the customer experience that differentiates them from their competitors. A site experiencing latency issues will inevitably frustrate customers, who are likely to abandon it pre- or even mid-transaction. Downtime impacts not only the current engagement that cannot go on while the site is down, but also future sales, as customers may not return. Legacy databases also cannot provide the intelligence necessary to personalize the user experience in real-time as the transaction occurs or as part of the follow up to build an ongoing relationship.

Rethink Your Architecture

To deliver an optimal customer experience, enable you to stay ahead of competitors. You need a distributed, intelligent, and responsive architecture which only possible when the right database is in place. In an increasingly cloud-first world for all organizations — not just digital natives — a database built for these cloud applications is essential for success.

Only a database designed for cloud applications from the ground up can provide the distributed, responsive, intelligent technology platform that extends across multiple clouds or data centers to ensure an optimal response. Also, only an architecture built for the cloud can provide the performance and scale necessary to deliver the experience customers expect.

Highly Connected Data Holds Key to Transformational Customer Experience

Knowing your customers’ preferences and how they interact with your enterprise has always been important to businesses. At one time it was simple: If customers didn’t like the products you were offering, they wouldn’t buy them. If they weren’t satisfied with your product or interaction with your employees at the store, they were less likely to visit your establishment again.

To be successful, companies needed to know what their customers wanted. Reaching them through sales and marketing efforts and following up with customer service was a proven strategy for customer growth and retention. Market surveys, customer segmentation studies, and focus groups enabled businesses to understand what types of products and services they should build or provide.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, this product-centric approach is no longer viable. To succeed in the modern marketplace, businesses must transition from making decisions based on not just aggregated, but also intelligent, customer data and by mapping out the customer journey. The current context in real-time allowing customer interactions to be optimized and adapted. Such information enables enterprises to understand and analyze the complete customer journey (including all of the touchpoints with various business silos within their organization) and build bi-directional relationships.

Today’s customers interact with businesses and make purchasing decisions across a multitude of channels: online and in apps as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. Increasingly, the ability to use data effectively to deliver what customers want and how they want it, or more importantly correctly assess what they will want or expect down the line, is becoming a differentiator for success.

The ability to integrate and analyze connected data throughout the customer’s journey with your company as he or she interacts with employees in different business units, or accesses products, services, or support across available engagement channels. This ability is critical to being able to deliver the satisfying experience that customers expected.

This is indicative of a seismic shift from a longstanding product-centric marketplace to a customer-centric one. A customer-centric company focuses less on building a feature-laden offering simply for the sake of building a technology-rich product that it assumes customers will want on those merits, and instead considers the customer first and focuses on establishing and maintaining a relationship.

In other words, the question companies need to ask is no longer, “what is the best product we can build?” but rather, “what services, products, and surrounding experiences do we need to offer to maximize customer value lifetime?”

The key to discerning what current and prospective customers want (and in some cases don’t yet know that they want) lays in the customer data.

“Disruptors” know that data about customers is where the true value lies for better understanding and serving the customer. Without comprehensive visibility and the ability to analyze it, there is simply no way to obtain a holistic view of your customers and understand their needs. You are guessing who your customers are, what they want, and how you can serve them best.

Customer experience is fast becoming a deciding factor for success in the emerging marketplace. Companies will find themselves at an increasing disadvantage to compete if they do not adjust for this shift.

Fortunately, many organizations are catching on and establishing healthy, bidirectional relationships with customers. These relationships cannot be formed without a holistic understanding of who the customer is. That means looking beyond simple market segmentation and acknowledging what customers need and want in the products, services, and surrounding experiences you develop, and doing this comprehensively across business silos and interaction channels.

The Power of Understanding Your Customers

A comprehensive holistic understanding of who your customers are, how and why they interact with your company, what products or services they use, and how and when they use them yields a great deal of information about how they relate to their environment and your business. This complete customer understanding helps you to optimize your business to better serve them and is the foundation for a personalized customer experience that is vital for sustained customer engagement. In general, digital natives are further ahead in personalized relationships, and many brick-and-mortar companies are competing against a business model under which they struggle to deliver.

Retail companies acutely feel the impact, which is often referred to as “the Amazon effect.” Online retailers transformed customer expectations with every aspect of the customer experience from product presentation and recommendations to follow-up emails about sales or related products.

But the impact extends beyond retail. Consider health care. An understanding of patients and their various interactions with practitioners, service providers, and administrative staff can be used to improve customer satisfaction as well as treatment outcomes.

Such a comprehensive understanding of customers enables businesses to see their interaction levers more clearly and thus develop a more personalized customer experience. By leveraging various connected data points, organizations can offer sought-after capabilities to customers sooner to improve customer interactions by providing additional value to customers.

Create a personalized experience is not simple to just upgrade or product migration. It is a high-level shift to think about data connected and collectively as merged data points. This mindset enables conclusions to be drawn from the larger context and the relationship among data points.

To create an effective personalized experience, customer data scattered throughout the enterprise must be brought together. This rich visibility delivered by connected customer data is possible only with the right technological underpinnings. Graph databases are built with this premise in mind. They are designed specifically to make sense of highly connected data.

But a graph database in and of itself is not designed to meet the needs of cloud applications, which play a key role in enterprise IT infrastructure. A cloud application is every application that needs to deliver real-time value at an epic scale. The power of a graph database can be fully realized only when paired with the functionality of advanced analytics, real-time indexing, and search. This has led organizations to cobble together multiple point solutions. But integrating several solutions adds additional layers of management complexity, increases the total cost of ownership, and lengthens the time it takes to get a product to market.

Choosing Database Architecture that Never Fails Customers

Cloud applications are driving the digital economy and having a profound and transformative effect on businesses. Cloud applications, apps that are intensely transactional with many geographically distributed endpoints (e.g., browsers, mobile devices, or machines), are expected to be always available and instantly responsive no matter how many users or machines are using it.

Most modern customer-facing applications fall under the cloud application umbrella, and as cloud applications become more pervasive, customers of all stripes have come to expect applications to deliver real-time value at an epic scale while also providing an intelligent and personalized experience.

Today’s users expect predictable performance and consistent and personalized customer experience regardless of location or platform. The experience should not vary between office, home, or other locales. Application response time and access to all data should be consistent. Functionality — both read and write capabilities — is expected to be universally available. The enterprise should know the customer and have visibility into their interactions with the company regardless of where and how they occur so that contextual information can be used to meet and surpass her expectations from the app.

Consider financial services. It’s not enough to be able to simply check your account balances from a mobile banking app. Customers accessing digital banking expect to be able to deposit a check, transfer funds, check on mortgages, look at their wealth management portfolio — perform any task from any location on any device, no matter which department they are engaging with for a cohesive, consistent and personalized experience.

Such continuous availability is inherently expected in this environment. Downtime, or even a slowdown, can have a cataclysmic effect on customer satisfaction. The likely impact is a lost sale due to customer frustration with the transaction delays or an inability to complete the transaction. And the long-term impact is even more profound. A dissatisfied customer is unlikely to return to make an additional purchase. Nor is he or she likely to recommend your business to others. Social media offers a ready outlet for a dissatisfied customer to vent to millions about a poor experience, creating a ripple effect that reaches those considering your product or service.

The Role of the Database in Ensuring a Better Customer Experience

Having the right infrastructure in place to provide continuous availability. The cornerstone of this infrastructure is the database platform. To ensure continuous availability for today’s cloud applications, a database platform must offer robust multi-model database capabilities to enable applications to consume data using a variety of different access patterns.

However, many of the legacy database platforms are not optimal for the cloud application-centric business model. These relational databases were designed for a centralized environment, where users were typically located in a single area.

While a relational database is structured to recognize the relationship among stored items of information, its inherent master/slave architecture does not hold up in a distributed environment, which requires an egalitarian read/write relationship.

But that hasn’t stopped enterprises from attempting to acclimate their database infrastructure to this new business model. Databases are a significant investment, in both fiscal and resource terms, and the decision to migrate is rarely made lightly. Historically, enterprises have had two choices: Use a different database for each access method, or get the relational database to adapt to how data is moved between locations. Both of these workarounds require a bolt-on of technologies that is often ineffective and results in an environment that is difficult to manage. Moreover, the complexity created by stitching together multiple systems makes it costly to maintain. Developing new functionality or taking other steps to improve the customer experience is also more difficult, as the database administrator’s time, along with other resources, is often consumed by monitoring and troubleshooting, not adding value.

Source: DataStax | NoSQL Database Built on Apache Cassandra