06 Sep

Customer-Centricity Is No Longer Just For The Customer

Voiced by Amazon Polly

Customer-Centricity has implications for IT, BPO, and internal organizational processes, not just customer support and CCO

Customer-Centricity is upon us. This is not new, but has been the case for some time. What is new is that old line enterprises are starting to catch on, and adapt. This adaptation requires more than sloganeering and marketing efforts, but the corporate culture, the discipline from the boardroom down needs to adapt in order to play catch-up with the disruptive new players that threaten certain legacy companies with extinction.

Customer-Centricity in commercial terms means the disintermediation of information from the generators of products and services; and their gatekeepers: TV in the days of the 3 major networks, major news dailies, national magazines, retailers, to the individual consumer. Brick & Mortar retailers lament “showrooming,” customers shopping in stores while checking online for pricing, auto dealers face customers armed with Carfax, pricing data, and online offers, hotels and restaurants must deal with a world where everyone’s a published critic, via platforms such as TripAdvisor and FourSquare.

Customer-Centricity means that, according to Billboard, traditional music sales are at their lowest level in tracked history: 4.25 million albums sold, vs. 785 million in 2000. E-book sales now make up 30% of the book sales market, with less than 10% of book sales coming from independent book stores, according to Forbes. In the past, information was tightly controlled, packaged and presented to the consumer. Publishers determined who got published and promoted, record companies decided who got signed and pushed out to radio stations. YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook now mean that television and movie studios no longer get to decide what you can see.

The local brick & mortar store doesn’t have the appliance you are looking for? A product is not available in your country? Order it globally from Amazon, Ali Baba, or eBay. Not just from another retailer, from literally anyone, individuals included who has it and is willing to sell it. Manufacturers and content producers no longer control the means of distribution. Going forward, it’s either innovate with quality, or die.

Customer-Centricity and Employee Engagement

Customer-Centricity is no longer a novelty. Companies such as Zappos, JetBlue, and Enterprise Car Rental have well earned reputations for making sure that the outward facing customer experience is superior. What many enterprises are beginning to learn however, is that the internal experience of employees is every bit as important.

If it is not easy for the employees to serve the customer, or if it is not easy for the employee to function effectively in his or her internal role, to the extent that employee suffers, the company suffers a multiple, both in the long term and the short term. This isn’t about feel-good corporate values (though there is certainly nothing wrong with that!), but about real and direct bottom line effects on turnover, engagement, and competitiveness. See how everyone seems to want to work at Google? That means they can get the employees they want. What about your firm? Is it the employer of choice? The key takeaway is that in Customer-Centricity, the employer must innovate with quality in the workplace as well as the marketplace. Unless you are the preferred employer, you will not have the preferred employees. Innovation only comes from the best minds working in an environment that fosters and supports employee engagement and creativity.

Customer-Centricity and the CIO

As previously mentioned, large manufacturers and content producers controlled distribution. 20 years ago, Microsoft was dominant at home, as well as in the office. Apple was nowhere to be found outside of the print shop. Google was just a search engine. Microsoft’s missteps in the marketplace are well documented elsewhere, but what is more relevant to this exploration is the rise of Linux and the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP environment), and Google’s Chrome and Android. Not just were they quality products, but they were offered free. The LAMP environment being open source, the software community (the very customers) could modify, improve, and innovate upon it freely. Today Android, a free, open-source based mobile operating system dwarfs both Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile on the global market.

HTML5 means that content providers (be they large conglomerates or individuals working out of their bedroom) no longer need to buy into proprietary packages like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. The CIO already knows that BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is here to stay, and can be both a curse and a blessing, as the CIO must learn to adapt and evolve security and directory policies, and can no longer control support or enterprise data as tightly as before. On the other hand, the hardware expenses are in many cases, shifted to the customerized employee, and with the employee using the device of his or her choice, accessing enterprise software via a browser or app interface, engagement, satisfaction and even efficiency is higher, as the employee is using the device he or she is most comfortable with. If an employee loses his or her personal device, it is a personal problem, of a different character and less problematic for the employer than if the employee has lost a corporate asset. If the corporate data is in the cloud, then the risk to the employer of data theft or hacking is diminished.

So What To Do?

There are several steps that the CIO of an enterprise wishing to be more customer focused can do in order to help drive the necessary innovation with quality. Key to this is a genuine evolution in culture and mindset that is focused on both the internal customer (employee) and external customer.

    • Embrace The Shift – Stop trying to control your external That battle is already lost. External data is not company proprietary information, rather what others know and communicate about your enterprise. If price structures are complex, for example, if an automaker has different pricing and terms from one local market to another, expect customers to find out about it quickly. That automaker has two choices: Either be ready to have an explanation for these policies, or consider scrapping them. Are you worried about showrooming? Maybe you shouldn’t be competing on price. A cup of coffee at Starbucks may cost four times as much as at Tim Horton’s, but Starbucks isn’t worried about customers checking their pricing against competitors.

Along these same lines, there is no such thing as local, anymore. Everything is global. If your location in Timbuktu does something, expect your customers around the world to react to it. Marriott Hotels recently made headlines globally, for something that one of its locations in Nashville Tennessee did. It doesn’t matter. The brand is the brand. If your company cannot enthusiastically and proudly embrace a policy or practice in an age when everyone is a critic with an audience, then it’s time to re-engineer the policy or practice.

    • Social Media is Not A Fad – Even if your product is zinc galvanized wingnuts, your customers are using social media. Real estate developers know that it is all about “Location, Location, Location,” in other words, being where your customers are. This is no difference online. There is practically no company that faces or deals with the customers—B2B as well as B2C, that should not be on social media, as it is a necessary channel of communication, as determined by customers themselves.

Still, just as your corporate web presence, this is not the kind of discipline that can be relegated to interns, part-timers, or the Vice President’s kid. Proper implementation of a social media strategy should be integrated with the enterprise’s marketing and advertising efforts, and should be every bit as strategic. In most cases, this means partnering with third party, specialized providers. If a company is large enough to employ external PR and external advertising agencies, it is large enough to need to engage with an external social media partner. In fact, smaller companies may want to establish a social media partnership before a traditional PR or advertising agency relationship, depending upon particular circumstances. At any rate, many modern PR & advertising outsourcers fully integrate social media into their offering.

Use social media as well, to engage with internal stakeholders, and where appropriate and regulatorily permitted, with shareholders. Beyond just Facebook and Twitter; LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ can be workplace appropriate forums and venues for employee and alumni communications and engagement.

    • Partner with Specialists – Shaping Customer Experience in Customer-Centricity, and in an omnichannel environment can get very complex very quickly. The CIO and the sourcing organization likely already has a good understanding of outsourcing best practices. Scaling up and down is challenging and can be distracting for organizations not set up to deal with the requirements of providing an exceptional customer journey that may start online, in a retail location, or via telephone, move across social media, and end up with post purchase support.

Just as manufacturers generally don’t try to design and run their own advertising campaigns, even customer centric organizations realize the value of partnering with a customer contact outsourcer, as well as outsourcing other business functions, to facilitate a focus on core business processes, and innovation.

According to a Deloitte survey, “63% of organizations view customer experience provided through contact centers as a competitive differentiator.”

    • The Cloud Is Not Enough – Cloud Migration is by now, nothing new. Virtually all companies, large and small, have migrated at least some operations to the cloud. CRM, Contact Center, ERP, database applications, are now cloud based, with many modern applications being cloud native. It is now the norm for application user interfaces to be browser based and platform independent, operating across PC, tablet and mobile environments. Any company, except perhaps a top-secret defense researcher should seriously question themselves if this is not their primary operating environment both internally with employees and externally with customers. Of course, the one *asterisk is that when appropriate; by all means deploy mobile apps on platforms such as Android and iOS.

The aforementioned is nothing new. What the CIO does not want to be caught flat-footed on, is the rise of The Internet of Things. What is coming is a world where everything is connected to everything. IP/Internet-Connected security and video cameras have been around commercially for almost two decades. In the 1980’s and 1990’s companies experimented with “smart homes,” but they never took off because they were missing something. They may have been (relatively) “smart,” but they were not connected. There was not yet really anything to connect them to. This is no longer the case. Not even the wild-eyed futurist can fully grasp the long-term implications of The Internet of Things, but it is coming, nevertheless. Smart TVs are here, the next generation of refrigerators, home security, air conditioning and heating units will be internet enabled. Because interfaces are (if the manufacturers have any sense) platform independent, these devices can be accessed, monitored and directed even from smart-watches or an Amazon Kindle book reader.

This is more than a gimmick though. The ability to program devices, to tailor an environment will enable companies to provide value in previously inconceivable ways. The customer support ramifications are tremendous. On one level, if you call in to diagnose a problem with a home system, the support agent can access the device directly, but to go further, the device can proactively create and send an alert to both the user, and when appropriate the manufacturer or representative, that attention is required.

This is all directly relevant to the CIO, and it is important that the company “gets it.” The CIO will be responsible for managing the data coming in from all these devices, mining it, making it useful, and extracting value from the data for the customer base as well as the shareholders.

Don’t think that this is strictly for consumer facing companies. Combined with RFID, geolocation, and satellite technology, The Internet of Things enables heretofore unimaginable disruption of the status-quo in logistics and the supply chain. When everything is connected, a component can be tracked literally from its point of creation, across the globe, through every single step in the supply chain, even across vendors, and across transport modes. The forward thinking CIO will not be caught flat footed, or in a reactive mode. The Internet of Things Is Coming, and the CIO can be proactive and an advocate for the company innovating, and utilizing it to serve both internal and external customers, or the CIO can be passive, and left without any thoughtful strategy when product designers (or in the case of the services industry, those who innovate ways to harvest and utilize the data for support or other purposes), begin to implement, and the CIO cannot articulate a plan for maximizing the value within the data that The Internet of things provides.

Disrupt or be Disrupted

In conclusion, Customer-Centricity has arrived. Customer-Centricity includes both internal and external customers. Companies must be prepared to meet the customer where the customer is, and in the context the customer prefers. The companies that fail to do this will be quite simply, disrupted. The disruptors are not the companies you see, but the ones you don’t. While Nortel and Lucent were worried about each other (remember them?) The rise of SIP and VoIP made the whole concept of a PBX obsolete. In the modern office, the telephone handset plugs into the ethernet switch. In the modern household, no one even bothers with a telephone (in the traditional sense) anymore (this analyst has not had a land telephone line since about 2003).

In Customer-Centricity, the customer controls the external data, not the company (whether the company likes it, or not). An airline may know the secret formula by which they calculate air fares, but the passenger is now better than ever equipped to determine how that price fits into their travel alternatives. The travel agent gatekeeper is no longer a necessary part of the equation (for better or for worse), and loyalty programs are less relevant than ever. Airlines that focus on the customer experience will disrupt those that look as customers as beans in an abacus. Make no mistake; the key is ease of the customer journey (in the case of the travel industry, literally as well as figuratively). This trumps even pricing.

The customer is social, and the customer-centric companies will leverage this to make customers their best advocates. A single customer recommendation is worth more than a thousand advertising impressions. The companies that don’t get it will react, be defensive, and become even more entrenched, seeing social media as a threat.

“Don’t build fortresses to protect yourself. Isolation is dangerous”—48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene

Every customer complaint via social media is an opportunity to build brand, and the customer centric company sees this as obvious.

Partner with specialists to accompany you on the customer journey. Most companies would do well to partner with an outsourcer to manage multichannel customer service. The CIO almost certainly uses outside vendors to support IT function, it makes as much sense to utilize CCOs who are set up specifically to serve as an enhanced bridge between the omnichannel customer and the focused enterprise. Customer experience champions are those firms that most successfully partner with their customer contact outsourcing providers.

It is more costly to delay adoption of new technology. Not just in terms of direct expenditures, but in competitive advantages. Firms that are platform independent and leverage mobile; internal and externally, have an advantage over firms that are still locked into a legacy environment. Enterprises that leverage The Internet of Things in products and service offerings to add value to customers (both internal and external)and engender loyalty, will succeed over, all things being equal, and disrupt those that are caught reactive and entrenched back in the industrial age.

Photo Credit: Loren Moss

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