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Get Customer-Centric—Don't Just Say You Are
If you're not striving to understand today's nonstop customer, you might be wasting money
For the rest of the August 2015 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Many companies insist they put the customer at the center of what they do—including investments in marketing, sales, service, and customer experience. It's the trendy thing to say, and a noble goal, but these statements are sometimes hard to reconcile with satisfaction rates—particularly those related to digital channels—remaining so low. In fact, 30 percent of consumers claim their providers' digital channels don't provide correct information, and 22 percent don't trust them; 17 percent don't even know how to access them, according to Accenture's Global Consumer Pulse Research survey.

The alarming truth: Many organizations waste millions each year with the best of intentions. Companies use outdated, inefficient customer models based on a linear sales and marketing funnel—not on the fluid discover-evaluate-purchase-discover cycle of nonstop customers today. And they invest in digital initiatives without a thorough understanding of the digital intensity of their customers.

Lining up customer-focused goals with impactful digital initiatives requires you to know what investments consumers will notice and value. In short, you need to be customer-centric. Here are four steps to achieving it:

1. Identify the digital intensity of customers. Just as a customer's credit score gives you an idea about credit decisions, a customer's digital intensity points to which investments will be noticed and valued. If you don't have that precision, you're flying blind. To engage customers, you must eliminate blind spots about how they make decisions, what they base decisions on, and how their behaviors evolve.

The degree to which digital technology impacts customers' lives is reflected in their digital intensity. Our research suggests four types of digital customer: traditional customers, who rely on conventional channels and simply leave digital traces; experimental customers, who selectively engage with digital technology for the value it delivers; transitional customers, who accept that digital technology is positive and strive to leverage it more; and digitally savvy customers, who make digital technology part of all dimensions in their life. This lens can provide vital clarity to what really matters to each type.

2. Align customer results and business results. Once organizations determine the digital intensity of customers, they can more accurately target the type of investment to match customers' requirements and drive growth. Customer­centric companies overtly recognize the difference between fixing internal problems (to improve operations) and focusing on and investing in customers' needs (to improve customer results). If you can't tell the difference, you're not customer-centric, and your impact on digital customers will reflect it—as will the ability of each investment to drive sustainable, profitable results.

3. Take advantage of the digital-physical blur. Significant investments target the new reality of the digital customer—but that doesn't mean all investments for digital customers should be digital. Customers move between digital and physical worlds seamlessly, occupying both areas at once, and they want to move with less friction, and with less predictable combinations. Companies should offer not just multiple channel options but multichannel combinations that blur the lines between digital and physical investments.

4. Adjust the sales and marketing model to reflect the new reality. The traditional sales and marketing funnel is outdated. Companies need a much more fluid model, with new front-office capabilities that adequately address changing customer behaviors. Making digital investments on top of a linear, or "analog," operating model is one of the most common reasons such investment programs underperform. By looking at the underlying model as they plot digital investments, companies can increase the speed of their most important functions and improve the agility of their teams by retiring the complexity that customers no longer notice or value in a digital world.

The need to overhaul the investment process comes at a time when there are far more options to invest in, and strong interest in funding these efforts. But for companies that say they are customer-centric, it's time to put customers in their rightful place—at the center of investment strategies. Businesses that follow that strategy will win.

Robert Wollan is the senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, Sales, and Customer Services.

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