CIOs: Welcome to the Age of the Customer

Don't look now, but your company is losing control. Your marketing brethren are already living with the challenge: Customers are now in the driver's seat.

The age of the customer turns up the heat on 21st-century institutions, causing disruption and discontinuities. Traditional sources of sustainable returns melt in the glare of increasing customer power. That new brand story you spent $18 million telling? It just got undercut by a single influential blogger compiling a list of 12 counterexamples that has been tweeted 1.2 million times and picked up by the news wires.

That new, modern plant you built to decrease your manufacturing line costs by 8 percent? Your competitor just made it obsolete by introducing a product that can be enhanced in the field, wirelessly and immediately, in response to customer requirements, and customers are tweeting their delight.

Empowered customers increase their influence on the market by using information and technology to demand what they want and decide with whom they do business. Only customer-obsessed businesses can increase market share, revenue and profit in the age of the customer.

How should technology management answer the call? Broaden the agenda beyond internal IT operations to include work focused on acquiring and retaining customers. The CIO and all other technology-management executives must manage two agendas in the future: internal operations, which we can call IT; and business technology (BT)--the technology systems and processes used to attract, serve and retain customers.

The BT agenda must focus on providing superior customer experiences. It requires new discipline and doesn't follow an easily automated process or formula. It means finding a way to harness less-mature yet rapidly evolving technologies, including social, mobile, customer analytics and customer experience management. BT will provide the next big technology payoff as companies find innovative ways to intercept and engage empowered customers through digital interfaces, devices and services.

Peter Burris focuses on CIOs in his role as a vice president and research director at Forrester Research.

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This story, "CIOs: Welcome to the Age of the Customer" was originally published by CIO .

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