A Critical Path for Customer Relevance

Brian Solis By Brian Solis
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A key objective for senior executives over the next several years is to use disruptive technology to get closer to customers, to improve relationships, and enhance experiences. It is a considerable move and the result will usher in a new era of adaptive and empathetic business models. However, this is a move that is easier said than done., especially when vision and execution are two sides of different coins. This is a critical path where businesses must not only commit to new technology and goals, but also invest in the methodologies, systems, processes, and people to bring about change from within before it can effectively engage outside.

Like in anything, businesses are measured by actions and words, where outcomes reveal true progress. In 2012 and 2013, businesses will prioritize efforts that bring the organization closer to customers while also performing against the metrics that are constant, including revenue, market share, increased efficiencies and improved margins. The difference now is that today’s company faces a formidable customer that is connected, empowered, influential, and most notably elusive. To earn their attention, their business and ultimately their loyalty and advocacy, the customer journey must be reconsidered, redesigned and individualized.

In a survey of over 1,700 CMOs in 2011, IBM found that the intention of customer engagement was certainly present, but that executives were unclear in how to assess and integrate new technology in managing and leading customer relationships. Of the 13 key market factors below, an alarming 50+ percent of respondents are under prepared to manage all but two key changes, Regulatory Considerations and Corporate Transparency.

Certainly, the model for tomorrow’s business is under development today. What’s clear is that the answers to lead change and chart new directions are unclear. And, this represents both a challenge and opportunity. Determined businesses will not sit idly while the market is defined by new technology and corresponding customer behavior. Nor will enterprising businesses adopt every new trend that comes along as a way of surfing waves of short-term relevance. Leaders and change agents will develop a process and taskforce to assess new technology against corporate vision, customer expectations, and market direction to prioritize investments in the following areas:

1. Integrated strategy and execution toward business objectives
2. Renewed, unified and consistent branding
3. Organizational structure, alignment and the empowerment people
4. Operations and supply chain
5. Improved processes
6. Collaboration
7. Customer service and engagement in new channels
8. Risk and reputation management
9. Integrated experiences – Mobile/Tablet/Digital/Social
10. Syndicated commerce
11. Metrics and value systems

These areas of focus represent the trends in transformation as expressed through the aspirations of executives who hope to get closer to customers and the expectations of the customers they hope to reach. This is as much about technology and vision as it is about reducing friction, inside and out. In the end, the convergence of disruptive technology, business processes, and customer experiences forces any organization to examine and re-examine everything. Every effort today carries opportunities for optimization or complete overhaul. The end result is increased relevance, improved experiences, and escalated results.

Some of the key areas of focus for any business in this convergence will include:

1. Big data and the necessary algorithms to make sense out of sheer volume and noise – the net result is intelligence to set the foundation for Adaptive and Predictive business models

2. Social and mobile media as it relates to customer influence, the customer journey, and post-commerce activities

3. Contact centers and the unification of democratized channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and a managed customer relationship system

4. Metrics, ROI, and meaningful outcomes that look beyond today’s limited KPIs that focus on friends, fans, followers, views, etc.

5. The relationship between CMO and CIO and how together, they will need to invest in innovation and scalability for a new breed of employee, consumer, and an unending array of emerging and disruptive technology

While these reflect only part of the trends requiring transformation, they collectively contribute to customer and employee preference and ultimately competitive advantage. This is the year when we must take a step back to cut through the fog of hype and identify the gaps between business objectives, customer expectations,the important technology channels that separate businesses and customers, and the capabilities and prowess to effectively engage and lead experiences across the board.

In further reviewing the IBM CMO Global Study, CMOs are prioritizing new technology investments as it relates to increasing engagement and improving customer relationships and experiences.

As you can see above, the examination of disruptive technology and the exploration of revising internal processes are aligning to?

1. Enhance customer loyalty/advocacy

2. Design experiences for tablet/mobile apps

3. Use social media to engage customers?their way

4. Use integrated software to better manage customer relationships

5. Listen and learn

This list should be viewed as a checklist for leading important conversations that contribute to a strategy roadmap. Where businesses are and where they will be next year and five years from now will not be predicated simply by social media. Customer expectations and the capacity to translate trends into actionable market opportunities requires a syndicated, but integrated approach, one where all channels are considered and weighted based on behavior and educated predictions. The true opportunity for customer engagement and scalable profitability lies in the architecture of not only a more social business, but a holistic enterprise that operates under a united front. But to get there requires the difficult first step, acceptance. Second, businesses need to assemble capable stakeholders who can organize the necessary treatise between social media champions, change agents, and leaders to organize a distributed movement that empowers employees, engages customers optimizes experiences, and adapts to new opportunities for growth and earned relevance.

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About Brian Solis
Brian Solis is principal at FutureWorks PR, an award-winning PR and Social Media agency founded in 1999. FW PR bridges the communications gap between companies and their customers, and between products and their specific benefits for their target markets. Solis blogs at PR2.0, http://www.briansolis.com, and regularly contributes to many industry trades. He is also frequently quoted in articles relating to technology trends and Marketing/PR strategies.

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