Required Reading: Competing on Customer Experience Requires a 'Growth IQ'

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How do you grow your company in the face of stiff competition and an ever-changing business environment? Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices That Will Make or Break Your Business aims to address that dilemma. Associate Editor Sam Del Rowe spoke with author Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce.com, to learn how companies can think their way to better business growth. (Hint: It involves customer experience.)

CRM magazine: What are some challenges to company growth? 

Tiffani Bova: Challenges to growth have multiplied in recent years. Too many companies respond with a strategic business model and forget about the mental model that also needs to change. Defining a successful growth strategy is a thinking game that works when you have the right mind-set to inform the when, where, and why of every strategic move. In a Bain & Company survey, 85 percent of all executives and 94 percent of those running companies with more than $5 billion in revenue said internal, not external, obstacles keep their companies from growing profitably. What a shame; after all, it is the internal factors over which you are supposed to have control, as opposed to moves by your competitors or market shifts. 

How do you define customer experience?

Customer experience is centered on the interactions between companies and their customers. A brand promise is what you say about your company; customer experience will impact what customers say about your company. Customer experience is the sum of all the touchpoints you use to engage your customers. However, I have tried to extend my definition by blurring B2B and B2C together and now saying B2E—business to everyone, everything, and every experience. That puts customers at the center of what you do versus the way in which you sell your products or services. 

Can you elaborate on the relationship between customer experience and company growth?

Regardless of industry or segment, you are in business to serve your customers. Becoming a customer-led company, one obsessively focused on customers and their experiences, isn’t just something to put on your to-do list; it has to become your true north. Many companies today are actually competing on customer experience rather than products. That is a fundamental shift. 

Your book lays out a number of paths to growth. What commonalities do they share?

I tried to center all the paths [on] customers and how to serve them better while pursuing growth goals. The growth paths individually may seem familiar or somewhat obvious, and they should. They were built on the back of long-standing management thinking. However, as the business world got more complicated with the rise of the internet, e-commerce, cloud-based services, and increased customer expectations, the application of these tried-and-true strategies required a modernized approach. Each path individually can be effective when pursuing growth, but when combined with other paths, their effectiveness is multiplied exponentially.

How might a company decide on a growth path or paths?

It isn’t enough to have the right growth strategy. You must fully understand the current market context prior to making any moves; otherwise, even the right decision or the right growth path can put you in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before you chose any growth path, you first must start with context: the circumstances or events that form the environment within which your company competes. Then and only then can you determine the right path for you company and what other paths may be required to support the execution of that strategy. Finally, there is the concept of sequence. Timing, or the order in which you do things, can actually determine success or failure. Make sure you align internal capabilities—systems, people, process—prior to launching new initiatives. 

Is there anything you want to add?

When it comes to new ways to uncover growth, I like to start with the basics. Do companies really understand who their existing customers are? How many customers do they have? How often do customers buy? Why did they buy from them? What do they like about their brand? Are there patterns in customer behavior that can help guide new revenue opportunities? If companies can’t answer even the most basic customer questions, how can they possibly understand where they should be making growth investments?

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