“You are all going out of business, slowly, but you don’t know it yet.” says CEO, Forrester Research

That is, unless you are one of the customer-obsessed organizations setting the benchmark for how to operate in The Age of the Customer, and the subject of Forrester Research’s recent study on how organizations succeed in the current age of digital disruption.

Over the past 20 years, Forrester Research have built a big data business, documenting the shift in power away from institutions, companies and government organizations…to you.  That’s right – according to George Colony, CEO, Forrester Research, YOU hold all the power.  Well…you, me, and billions of our closest friends and family that are customers, employees and citizens of world.

Speaking at Salesforce.com‘s Dreamforce 2016, George described the Age of the Customer as being driven first and foremost by technology that allows us to price precisely, find information easily, and buy anywhere we want to.  Customers today are categorized with:

  1. A willingness to innovate – we are faster to adopt new products and technology, and demand products and services that evolve at the same speed.
  2. Almost excessive device usage – the shift from physical to digital is rapidly accepted, whether it be from bricks-and-mortar to online, or from playing sports to PokemonGO – the lines are blurred and we are natively comfortable switching between the two.
  3. Information savviness – we know how to get the information we need to make a decision instantly and no longer rely on companies to educate us on their service or products.
  4. Self-efficacy – we have help and informative sources at our fingertips, enabling us with the confidence that we can get the job done.

What Forrester found, through decades of observations and company research, is that customer experience categorically drives revenue growth, and the most successful companies today can be described, not as customer-centric, or service-oriented, but “customer-obsessed” with the DNA to match. 

The have made the shift from Customer Aware to Customer Led, where customer opinion drives the next generation of products and services.

From Data Rich to Insights Driven, where analytics plays a key role in supporting critical business decisions, and where insights are pushed to employees so they can change the experience for the customer.

From Perfect to Fast, where agile methodologies ensure the quest for perfection doesn’t interfere with innovating at speed.

From Siloed to Connected, where every part of the organization is tapped into the customer experience.

It comes as no surprise that customer-obsessed organizations outperform laggards on Glassdoor:

  • Overall ratings for customer-experience laggards sits at 3.0, but increases to 3.4 for index leaders.
  • Culture and values improve from 3.0 to 3.5.
  • Willingness to recommend jumps from 53% to 70%.
  • CEO approval increases from 63% to 80%.

George and his team observed that customer-obsessed organizations fundamentally focus on six key areas.

#1.  Structure

Customer-obsessed organizations are fixated on structure and whether it meets the demand of the customer.  One example he shared was Northwestern Mutual Life (NML) where the CIO promoted himself to be in charge of customer technology, and appointed a CTO to manage the internal technology footprint.

#2.  Culture

Culture is how you behave and what you value – and driven from the top down.  Great internal culture will influence a great customer culture.  George recommends this should be everyone’s first focus area – organizations will not survive the Age of the Customer, or drive greater revenue, if they don’t align the culture of the organization to meet the needs of the customer.  “It must be led by the CEO – you can’t do it from the middle, and you can’t do it from the bottom.  Ultimately good employee culture drives good customer culture – an airline could have the best booking and ticketing system, but if you get on the plane and the crew have a bad attitude, it creates a bad culture with customers.

#3.  Talent

It’s a no brainer – hire the right talent to cultivate the right culture.  Hartford Life Insurance hire people first and foremost with empathy, and they test them by asking questions such as the name of the person that cleans their office!

#4.  Metrics

You can’t change what you don’t measure. Customers discover, explore, buy, use, ask, engage – your metrics should be able to address all parts of the customer journey.  Metrics should be able to give you prescription for what you have to change – even better if you can get to one core metric so the organization is all speaking one language.

#5.  Process

Customer-obsessed organizations are always working on process – to simplify it, improve it, and make it seamless to their customers.  For example, Delta airlines have a process called “when our customer leaves stuff in the restaurant” – what the customer thinks is a unique, personalized experience, is actually a well-planned, thought-out business process, executed flawlessly.

#6.  Technology

Customer-obsessed organizations fundamentally understand the difference between Business Technology (BT) – that is the technology that helps to win customers, and Information Technology (IT) – technology used to run the internals of the business.  George advises that organizations today need to budget for BT and IT separately, even though they are connected and interrelated, to ensure adequate funding is funneled to both sides of the business.

In 2016, it is expected in the US alone, $1.544 Trillion will be spent on technology – 68% of which will be spent on IT, and just 32% on BT.  But given BT is growing at twice the rate of IT, there needs to be a conscience rationalization of IT to fund BT over the coming years.  It’s essential that BT is considered in collaboration with the CMO – BT is not the provence of the CIO.  In fact, it should be considered between the CIO, CMO and business heads – or the “holy trinity” as George fondly refers to it.

George also noted that Salesforce.com is “one of the most important business technologies in the world today – but we already knew that.  😉

The Age of the Customer has arrived.  You have to master a customer-obsessed operation model to survive.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the complete report “The Customer-Obsessed Blueprint” from Forrester Research to know where you stand, and hear from some of my favorite customer-obsessed organizations sharing their story at Dreamforce Live throughout the course of the week. 

Time to indulge that obsessive-compulsive behavior and target it squarely and you, me and the billions of customers, employees and citizens around the world.  It’s time to get customer-obsessed!