Take a step toward customer obsession

In the age of the customer, companies have to focus on the technologies, systems and processes that win, serve and retain customers

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Empowered customers, armed with ever-increasing digital capability, are assaulting your business model.

Get used to it.

These customers expect any information and any service to be available at their moment of need. Forrester calls this the age of the customer, a 20-year business cycle in which customer obsession will make or break your business. Innovative brands, from Delta to Southwest, T-Mobile to Verizon, Home Depot to Walgreens, and Caterpillar to Rolls Royce, are disrupting the way they work to meet their empowered customers’ needs. These companies seek to become customer-obsessed, focusing their strategies and budgets on the technologies, systems and processes that win, serve and retain customers.

Becoming customer-obsessed gives your technology management organization an unprecedented opportunity to overcome the nagging frustration of IT gravity. That gravity suppresses your team’s ability to influence the direction of your business, to build new competitive advantage. You have to be willing to change the way you work to help your firm become customer-obsessed.

Many of these companies started their customer-obsessed journey by embracing new customer experience skills, techniques and methods. Doing so helped them begin to understand their customers and the journeys customers take when making decisions and using products and services — and it has paid off. These and other customer experience leaders have outperformed laggards in their industries across numerous metrics — including revenue, subscribers, passenger miles and stock performance. AT&T U-verse, an ISP customer experience leader, far outpaced rival Comcast XFINITY in revenue, Internet subscriber and video subscriber growth from 2010 through 2014. Amazon, a customer experience leader in retail, experienced a compound annual revenue growth rate 16 times that of rival Walmart over the same time period.

Applying customer experience techniques such as journey mapping — visually illustrating customers’ processes, needs and perceptions throughout their relationship with a company — highlighted how disconnected many of these firms’ business units and functions were from their customers’ needs. These same techniques and methods helped reshape how many of these firms prioritize what they work on and why, and gave these leaders input into designing their future business.

Embracing these customer experience skills, techniques and methods can help you overcome IT gravity. It will also change the perception of the majority of business leaders who question the value your tech management organization brings to the business: Over 60% of executives don’t firmly believe you and your teams accelerate their business success. Defeat the mindset that customer experience is “just for marketing” or something your digital agency does for you. Building around these skills, methods and techniques can help you change the culture, skill set and leadership your team offers your company.

If you’re looking for where to take a first step toward customer obsession, start here. Use the discipline of customer experience to: 1) Identify and prioritize new projects that address customer journey gaps and challenges in how your customers get value; 2) showcase to your teams how what they do has a direct impact on customer value; 3) get needed input to help design your future business — any firm can be a digital business by embracing digital capability in what they do today. But without real customer experience-driven input, can your firm safely state its designing for its future?

This isn’t the only step to take to become customer-obsessed, but it is an important first step that you can take to demonstrate leadership. Adopting the discipline of customer experience in your team will help you take greater ownership of your company’s future, and its new competitive advantage.

Kyle McNabb is vice president of research strategy at Forrester Research.

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