This past June, my colleague Rick Parrish alerted customer experience (CX) professionals to a dire problem: Their networks of customers, partners and employees that affect customer experiences are fundamentally broken. Rick’s diagnosis reveals numerous organizational, cultural, and and partnership issues across businesses’ sprawling CX ecosystems. I admit it — this description makes the challenge of fixing these problems sound daunting. So where do you start?

The problems Rick identified in CX ecosystems seem to be the result of ossified organizations, cultures, and business relationships. This means CX leaders must drive new levels of responsiveness and creativity into their ecosystems. And the way you drive these attributes into your ecosystems is to seize on the concept of business agility. My colleague Craig Le Clair outlined 10 dimensions of business agility that provide the market, organizational, and process frameworks necessary to embrace market and operational changes as a matter of routine. This is merely setting the strategy, though; executing it requires a marriage between the business and technology strategies.

I’ve argued that how you select, deploy and use technology is the truest reflection of your organization's strategy and values. And business leaders are telling us that cloud technologies go hand-in-hand with agility: 75% of technology managers using, or planning to use, software-as-a-service (SaaS) indicated that improving business agility was important to their decision to use the technology. This makes agility the most important factor — ahead of traditional justifications for the cloud like reducing business technology operational costs. So how is this benefiting CX ecosystems?

Cloud technologies give employees more of a voice in improving the customer experience:

  • Yammer allows Red Robin staffers to contribute restaurant innovations. The US restaurant chain built a training community on Microsoft’s social SaaS to augment its standard training program. Deployed on iPads, the tool allows staffers without access to a PC to continue communicating with trainers after the formal training program concludes, as well as talk to other employees. The camera-equipped iPads had the added benefit of allowing restaurant staffers to record their process innovations (e.g., a better way to clean the ice cream dispenser) and submit them to the trainers. If the trainers agree the the innovation is an improvement, they will make it the Red Robin standard.

With partners, the cloud simplifies how information essential to new products and services is shared:

  • Cloud storage tools help a major pharmaceutical firm manage its partnerships. A drug and medical device manufacturer uses a cloud storage and file-sharing service to collaboratively work on large files with several hundred partners. The firm first employed this technology because it was difficult getting its partners access to file stores behind its corporate firewall. With the cloud service, the pharmaceutical firm has created a single source of truth for the files that power its joint ventures. And the cloud storage technology has simplified and expedited the sharing process between the firm and its partners, which has the down-stream effect of getting products into trials more quickly.

Customers benefit from innovative products and services the cloud allows businesses to rapidly produce:

  • Google Maps gives FedEx a platform to create a new store locator. The global shipping services provider created a new store locator on its website using Google’s popular mapping technology. Google provides the company a stable mapping platform that provides FedEx’s shipping clients an interactive experience that includes panoramic views, street views, and integrated satellite data. FedEx also notes that the cloud service allows it to do things like rapidly change the posted store hours on its site if an local event like a winter storm warrants a change, helping its clients plan accordingly.

We are at the beginning of this conversation on the cloud’s impact on CX ecosystems. I invite you to post your thoughts here on how cloud technology can improve and enhance customer experience ecosystems. I also invite you to join me as I speak about this topic at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum West in Anaheim, CA (November 6 and 7) and our EMEA Customer Experience Forum in London (November 17 and 18).