It's Time For Business Leaders To Embrace Customer Intelligence

Forrester believes that we have entered the age of the customer — an age in which customer obsession matters more than any other strategic imperative, requiring firms to focus their strategy, energy, and budget on processes that enhance knowledge of, and engagement with, customers.

It sounds straightforward, right? Which of us doesn’t wish to become more customer-centric? Yet we see few executive teams that treat customer understanding and intelligence as a strategic imperative. Don’t believe me? Look at the agenda or the minutes from your last several executive team meetings or board meetings. How much time was devoted to understanding customers better or to leveraging that customer knowledge in new ways to drive business success?

Our research shows that fewer than fifteen percent of firms operate at a strategic level of Customer Intelligence. These are the firms that have turned customer knowledge into a corporate asset. The vast majority of them drive improvements in customer acquisition, retention, satisfaction, revenue, profitability, and customer value. And they apply CI broadly within the business. Ninety-five percent of strategic intelligence firms use CI to drive corporate strategy, versus 30% of those we categorize as functionally intelligent. And 87% of strategic intelligence firms use CI to drive business operations, versus 19% of those at the functional intelligence level.

But before you switch off and tell me this is someone else’s job, be aware of the role of executive management. Strategically intelligent firms are far more likely to have a senior-level sponsor or champion: 46% of them strongly agree that their company has a C-level evangelist or champion for Customer Intelligence, versus 20% of marketing intelligence firms and 7% of functional intelligence firms.

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Netflix Revises Strategy ..... Again!

Netflix has come to its senses and revised its strategy in favor of the customer. After a recently announced decision to split out its DVD business from its streaming business, Netflix received a barrage of criticism from customers -- including my last blog post, where I questioned the wisdom of this strategy. Today, CEO Reed Hastings announced a 180-degree about turn -- well done Mr. Hastings. While it would surely have been wiser to have made a better strategic decision in the first place, changing course in face of customer criticism at least shows Netflix is still willing to put its customers first.

This turn of events highlights the difficulty of getting strategic planning right. While abstract analysis of strategic options may point to an optimal choice for any set of circumstances, any strategic analysis which ignores customer impact is fatally flawed. As my colleague Luca Paderni and I pointed out in our recent keynote at the Forrester CIO-CMO Forum, companies must become customer obsessed. Indeed, we highlighted Netflix as an example of a company that had succeeded in large part because it was customer obsessed and had mastered the customer data flow in a way that increased customer value.

There is a lesson here for us all ... success in the future will go to those companies willing to become customer obsessed and put the customer ahead of Wall Street.