You’re Digitally Transformed — Now What?
For the past several years, enterprises around the world have gone digital. While you were setting your company up for digital success, you likely (and eagerly) consumed all the content you could find on the topic: surveys, white papers and more.
But setup is only the start — now the hard work begins. How can you and your team maintain high standards for quality, deploy more often and get the most from your move to digital?
The Need For Instant, Perfect, Personal Experiences
In the application economy, customer satisfaction is driven by ease of use and performance. Tolerance for bugs, crashes and slow load times is in most cases, slim to none. No matter how thoroughly you’ve tested your app before pushing to production, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee your users a flawless experience.
As more companies digitally engage with customers, more customers expect the experience to be instant, perfect and personalized. To keep your customers happy (not to mention loyal) it’s more important than ever for your developers and software teams to get this right.
Move Fast And Do Not Break Things
Before joining my current company, I spent nearly a decade at a cloud services organization building cloud services and applications and supporting customers on their transformation journeys. I’ve discovered that companies that see the most success from a digital transformation strike a balance between quality and the speed at which they ship new iterations of their software.
For example, they set clear expectations with customers by building a cadence of weekly bug-fix releases and monthly feature releases. To achieve this predictability, they defined a release plan addressing code quality, customer success and the ability to deploy safely.
Below are some best practices that engineering leaders employ to decrease time spent shipping software that works.
Deploy With Assurance
Development teams should write thorough unit and integration tests to determine how new features and functionality may impact the entire code base. Unit tests look at small sections of code while integration tests ensure these additions don’t break other parts of the codebase that were not altered. This is very important with teams that have multiple people working on various aspects of the application to ship new features faster.
Releases can be risky due to the volume of code involved and the type of functionality introduced or refactored. A good way to reduce risk and minimize user impact is to practice canary releasing (also referred to as progressive rollouts). By first rolling out the release to a small percentage of users, issues can be identified quickly and the code reverted, saving the majority of customers from experiencing those problems. If there are no issues, development teams can confidently roll out the functionality incrementally until it reaches 100%.
Another way to deploy with assurance is to ship new functionality behind feature flags to conduct controlled experimentation of new ideas. Feature flags enable engineering and product teams to ship partial concepts to gauge interest and success of new features without having to invest significant engineering hours. This could be as simple as experimenting with a new color scheme or more significant, such as testing a new onboarding flow.
Additionally, all components of an application can be shipped behind a flag. In the case of a critical issue with a particular feature, the product team can simply turn off the flag and hide the associated functionality from their end users.
Everything Comes Back To Code
The customer experience is directly tied to application functionality. When errors cause faulty performance or crashes, it can directly impact brand reputation. If the error impacts some software components, such as the shopping cart, it can impact revenue as well.
Performance tools can be used to alert development teams about slowdowns across a product or service. Are page loads taking longer than expected? Are sign-ups down? Set up a dashboard within your monitoring solution to show measurements for uptime, performance over time and application performance index (Apdex, a standard for measuring software application performance). Then, define an escalation path to make sure that the right engineers are alerted if there are spikes or fluctuation. Engineers can dig into a presumed source of the spike to determine the root cause.
Although back-end systems can impact the performance of an application, problems will often lead back to code — nearly everything comes back to the code. When chats go down, attachments fail, payments decrease or there are changes to any other KPI that supports your business objectives, the engineering team should look for problematic code to make sure those histograms do not spike about that issue again.
All-In Approach To Customer Success
Instrument your product or service to measure customer success. Are users achieving what they intended to do? If not, why? Where are they being blocked or dropping off? Being able to answer these types of questions will help product and customer success teams make improvements to the application or build the right educational resources to make sure your customers are able to checkout, chat, send a reaction or anything your app promises.
Pair technology like chatbots, service desks and customer success software with high-functioning customer success and product teams to make sure your customers are heard and their concerns are resolved quickly.
Fuel Your Ongoing Digital Strategy
Digital transformation is a constant process of evaluating, creating, measuring and reevaluating to continuously improve in the increasingly competitive app-centric economy. Companies must be diligent about the processes and tools they use to build, deploy and manage their applications, consistently measuring and evaluating to ensure flawless performance.
One small error in code can wreak havoc on user experience, impacting everything from reputation and customer acquisition to the bottom line. But following the best practices outlined above can ensure development teams are able to move fast and continuously innovate to make the most of the move to digital.
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