When businesses embrace a “customer first” mentality, they become more reliant on technology than ever before. As these enterprises race to transform themselves into digital companies, the need for constant innovation of customer experience (CX) capabilities through software development comes into focus. For customer experience products and services, the imperative for quality is paramount because there are no second chances with customers. Today, customers are empowered in ways never seen before: their switching costs are low and social media stories are powerful ways to amplify their dissatisfaction.

Rapid innovation is a priority, but quality cannot be compromised. Companies need flawless customer experience execution from Day One. To drive digital transformation, innovate CX rapidly and assure quality, many development teams have turned to DevOps. Digital transformation requires a different model of software development. It requires a model of “perpetual evolution,” as McKinsey calls it, with many IT groups pressured to deliver ten significant projects each year, with category leaders far exceeding that.

Agile and DevOps practices enable companies to create small experiments to learn which products and experiences are embraced by customers, learn rapidly from shorter feedback cycles between development and operations, and therefore iterate as fast as the market and their customers are moving. The practices also add agility and resiliency to digital transformation projects. When the DevOps software methodology is applied to CX projects, Cyara’s CX Assurance experts highlight four important considerations:

  1. Quality is imperative for customer experience success

Customers have higher expectations than ever before and their experience feedback travels fast. Research by Customer Contact Week revealed that 54 percent of customers that had a bad customer experience considered switching companies, and 50 percent told friends, family, or coworkers about that issue.

  1. The customer’s perspective is paramount

As CX experts, we want every interaction a customer has with our company to be delightful and memorable. Therefore, the software must be designed with the customer’s end goal in mind, rigorously tested across the different channels, leveraging realistic journeys, and then monitored in real time to identify potential struggles before a customer experiences them. Only then can we be certain that we’re assuring an excellent CX.

  1. A single customer journey involves many complex technologies

Customers demand omnichannel journeys where they can interact with a company’s website, chatbot, live chat, IVR (interactive voice response), live voice agent, email, SMS, or other channels. They expect seamless journeys where each channel understands their unique context and history. The technology infrastructure required to connect siloed channels and pass customer data between channels is extremely complex.

For example, the IVR channel requires not just an IVR voice portal, but also VoiceXML applications, speech recognition, text-to-speech, and IP telephony (and that’s just the voice channel!). Connecting an IVR to another channel often requires a connection to a CRM system, computer telephony integration, an ecommerce application, and others—all in the cloud. Many of these systems are supported by legacy and/or homegrown technologies that can be fragile and difficult to evolve.

  1. The DevOps solution set is different for customer experience

DevOps for CX engenders unique requirements, and so there are purpose-built solutions that address these. Generally speaking, these solutions increase automation and facilitate an Agile approach to CX design and management. CX applications frequently involve voice interfaces, which demands specialized testing and monitoring to support that. And, for complex contact-center software, you may need purpose-built technology to facilitate configuration management.

Anthem puts the customer first in its development projects
So, how does this work in practice? To illustrate this, I recently interviewed Anil Ravula, who heads up development of Anthem’s vast network of customer-service contact centers. With more than 73 million people served by its affiliated companies, including nearly 40 million within its family of health plans, Anthem is one of the nation’s leading health-benefits companies. As Anthem’s customer base has grown, so too has the challenge of ensuring its contact-center operations serve the needs of millions of members and providers nationwide. Their experience in applying DevOps methodologies to CX development is an excellent example of how to align Agile and DevOps with a customer-first approach.

Until recently, Anthem was barely managing to deliver weekly updates of its contact-center system, a massively complex task that typically commenced at 4pm, ran overnight, and involved multiple teams in different locations. This multi-step process included build, integration testing, deployment validation, and final rollout—and was almost entirely manual. Several challenges were associated with this approach:

  1. It precluded the continuous integration/continuous deployment.
  2. It required coordination of different groups across different locations.
  3. Builds did not always incorporate the most important features.
  4. There was no automated regression testing to validate build and deployment.
  5. The lead time to implement new features was measured in months.

In 2017, as part of a companywide adoption of an Agile/DevOps approach, Anthem transitioned contact-center applications development to a DevOps-driven continuous integration/continuous development approach. The overarching objective, from a development perspective, was to automate the build and deployment of the IVR system—the frontline service for Anthem’s interaction with customers. As part of its transition to Agile, Anthem adopted a sprint-based approach with a heightened focus on customer experience.

“To enable faster innovation of our IVR systems, we embraced DevOps concepts and with that came a whole set of new tools,” said Anthem Staff Vice President Anil Ravula. “This was also a major shift of our mindset—we started to think in terms of user stories and to assign developers well-defined initiatives that focused on specific customer outcomes.”

Anthem’s new approach to CX system development automates the entire process and, most importantly enables developers to develop, build, and test small, user-focused improvements before publishing these as deliverables to an enterprise artifact repository server. From there, deployment and testing are also automated. Most importantly, testing is now more rigorous, with broader coverage able to explore a huge number of potential cases and performed on what’s actually been deployed—with automated feedback of errors and other anomalies to the development team.

“Whereas before we would run a series of defined tests manually, we can now use a fully automated approach using Cyara’s comprehensive set of IVR testing protocols,” said Ravula. “We also added a Lighthouse Dashboard to measure our build quality based on real-world testing and to provide visual reinforcement that we’re hitting our quality goals.”

The combination of investing in cultural change and the right technology has yielded the results Anthem was hoping for. Before the transformation, it took five to eight months to implement new features. Anthem can now innovate faster with smaller, more sure-footed steps—and derive meaningful business value from new features almost immediately, with weekly builds and new features deployed twice each month.

And while the benefits to Anthem’s customers are improved systems to get their questions resolved, there’s also been a quantifiable improvement for the development team, says Ravula: “What’s really great is that the team now has more reasons to celebrate their efforts because they see the success of delivering valuable features to our customers within weeks, not months.”