Clamoring to Serve the Customer

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Business used to be simple. Each silo was neatly focused on its own metrics, fulfilling its role, gradually adding a bit of value here or there. When the Web came along and customer experience really started to matter, when it became measurable at more than just the gross, aggregate level, most companies did the obvious: They created a customer experience silo. In some companies, that meant taking care of Web design; in others, it was about customer service or customer analytics. But it was always a new silo, with new metrics that other silos could ignore.

Then came digital disruption, the massive force rolling across every industry in merciless fashion, accelerating innovations that used to take years or decades to occur, multiplying the type and range of disruptions to which a company is vulnerable.

In this digitally disrupted world, digital platforms provided by companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google have created friction-free channels for new services to be rapidly generated, tested, and improved. This has included entirely new services, embodied in apps like the weight-loss tracking tool Lose It!, but also disruptive improvements to product experiences at big companies, like when Excedrin built a migraine troubleshooting app.

No matter what example you use, all digital disruptions to product experience point to the same outcome: There will be a dramatic expansion of the relationship a company has with its customers, on multiple devices, across all phases of the customer journey.

And no matter the industry, this disruptive shift makes the customer experience more important than ever. That's why it gets messy. When the marketing team decides to disrupt itself by building digital customer relationships through social marketing tools or apps, it collides headfirst with the customer service squad, which was planning a customer retention app that would deepen long-term engagement with the customer.

Meanwhile, the customer insights team wonders why nobody has asked them what the data in the warehouse would suggest people really want from the customer experience.

And when the product strategy folks—trying desperately to keep up with the rapid disruptions coming from competitors—propose radical new products and services that have to be supported by all these other teams, everybody else suddenly feels like their plans for the customer experience are being corrupted.

That's the enviable problem faced by customer experience professionals. Even as their silo, their discipline, is becoming more important than ever, just about everyone else at headquarters thinks they need to have a say in how customer experience evolves. Meanwhile, most of them are unsure that the organization has what it takes—a survey we conducted among executives shows that just 38 percent believe their company has the skills it needs to adapt to digital disruption. One of those increasingly crucial skills is customer experience management.

Customer experience pros, it's time to let others in the company know that you can help. Avoid positioning yourself as the keeper of the customer engagement rulebook. Instead, show that you're ready to be an accomplice to internal disruptions, and show up at meetings offering to make other teams' ideas even stronger, rather than waiting for them to cross swords with you or violate the lessons you learned the hard way through years of effort. In other words, disrupt your process in order to help your company digitally disrupt its product experience. Easier said than done, certainly, but it will be crucial to your individual success and absolutely vital to your company's path to digital disruption.

James McQuivey, Ph.D., is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He is the author of the book Digital Disruption, published in February 2013.

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