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Put Customer Insights at the Center of Business Transformation

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Silos are great for storing grain, but they’re lousy for running a business. And yet they’ve become such commonplace artifacts of any large company that, until recently, their existence has gone unquestioned. The gaps between marketing, sales, and customer service keep getting wider, and the result is stilted, disjointed customer experiences—and lost business opportunities.

Rather than trying to streamline within each silo, we should be building processes and workflows across departments. The objective ought to be anticipating customer needs and using those insights to design experiences that support customer journeys, not competing internal priorities.

For nimble start-ups with a clear focus on identifying unmet customer needs, that’s easy enough to do. For large, established companies, this requires decisive change and concerted effort.

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

Spoiler alert: We’re in the digital age. (If that really was a spoiler, we need to talk.) Transformation is the mantra. It should be all about new business and operating models that better serve customer needs. Too often, it isn’t.

There’s reason for hope. Company leaders get it. In Constellation Research’s recent digital transformation survey, the most common goal of transformation initiatives is to reach and engage with customers more effectively (50 percent of C-level and executive respondents).

But customers—and customer-facing departments—still get short shrift. According to the survey, the larger the company, the more likely its digital transformation initiatives are led by a chief information officer or chief digital officer. As great as these folks are, they’re more obsessed with data-driven business models, competitive advantage, or modernizing IT than with engaging customers. In smaller companies where CEOs lead digital transformation, engaging with customers is a higher priority.

There’s an important lesson here. Everyone, at every level within an organization, needs to be crystal clear on why transformation is happening: to improve business by serving customers better. Everything else should be done in service of this goal. Otherwise, the risk of failure is high. Without knowing why you’re making the change, it’s easy to get wrong what you’re changing or how you’re changing it.

In this context, it will come as no surprise that executives’ biggest concern, regardless of who leads digital transformation, is changing culture.

WHERE WE NEED TO GO

If you buy into the idea that serving customers is the fundamental driver of a successful business, then understanding customers and anticipating their needs should be your guiding principle. Making this part of everybody’s job will yield an incredibly rich, deep set of customer insights.

Then comes putting those insights to use. Here, technology has a crucial role to play. All of these insights should be part of a shared, holistic view of customers that informs all aspects of customer interactions. Advances in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and low-code/no-code apps make it possible to put the appropriate information in the hands of customer-facing employees when they need it to make decisions.

Armed with this information, you can design customer experiences that create personalized customer journeys. We call this insight-driven experience design (IXD)—building and maintaining an integrated, cohesive, holistic, and unified view of customers. Effective IXD does these things:

• encompasses all aspects of customer interaction in a continuum, where each action molds and forms the basis for an improved next action;

• gathers input from across all customer interactions;

• unifies data and processes across customer journeys, recognizing that individual customers might have multiple journeys at a given point in time;

• focuses on identifying the right information and insights necessary to make better decisions, leveraging AI and other technologies to improve this process;

• enables end-to-end experiences through workflows that cut across departmental silos; and

• ultimately feeds into every aspect of a business.

The new currency—and source of business competitiveness—comes from this ability to anticipate and address customers’ needs. Customer understanding feeds the approach; IXD makes it possible.

It’s time to put customers at the center of transforming marketing, sales, service, and every other function in the business. And this time, to do it right. 

L. Nicole France is principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research. Over the course of 20 years as both analyst and marketer, her passion has been helping customers to harness technology to improve customer engagement and drive business results.

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