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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How To Stop Your Customers From "Cheating" On You

About five months ago, I “broke up” with T-Mobile in favor of AT&T. I was a T-Mobile customer for six years on a very competitive service plan. But none of that mattered; I wanted an iPhone, and T-Mobile couldn’t give it to me. It was a clean but cruel breakup: AT&T cancelled my T-Mobile contract on my behalf, the equivalent of getting dumped by your girlfriend’s new boyfriend.

I bring this up because it reminds me of the saying: “If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.” This is particularly important to remember in “The Age Of The Customer” where technology-led disruption is eroding traditional competitive barriers across all industries. Empowered buyers have information at their fingertips to check a price, read a product review, or ask for advice from a friend right from the screen of their smartphone.

This is affecting your IT just as much as your business: As an indicator, Forrester finds that 48% of information workers already buy whatever smartphone they want and use it for work purposes. In the new era, it is easier than ever for empowered employees and App Developers to circumvent traditional IT procurement and provisioning to take advantage of new desktop, mobile, and tablet devices as well as cloud-based software and infrastructure you don’t support. They’re “cheating” on you to get their jobs done better, faster, and cheaper.

To become more desirable to your customer – be it your Application Developers, workforce, or end buyers – IT Infrastructure and Operations leaders must become more customer-obsessed, which I talk about in this video:

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How Not To Deal With IT Service Failure

I need to make this brief; the failure of the lump of plastic that used to be my BlackBerry has made me very time-poor today …

It has been an interesting year for RIM and for the BlackBerry. RIM has seen the erosion of its corporate mobile-email dominance (as employees prefer the usability of iPhones and Android devices), its brand was adversely affected by the BlackBerry Messaging Service being "the weapon of choice" for the thugs involved in the London riots, its tablet play has limped into the iPad's market, and now we have the prolonged service outage ... Sorry service OUTAGES.

The extent of the outage has been and continues to be shocking (there is no way it should have been this severe). But to me, in my capacity as an analyst, and observer and advisor on IT service management best practice, the real issue here is how RIM has handled the situation.

In managing the outage, RIM has acted like an old-fashioned technology vendor rather than a modern-day service provider; while we talk about BlackBerry devices we are really buying into the BlackBerry service. And we expect that service to be consistently delivered relative to service promises and our expectations thereof.

While we would prefer there not to be an interruption to service, most of us appreciate that "stuff" happens. When there is a service-affecting issue, we have a set of minimum requirements as customers that need to be catered for:

  • Firstly, we want early notification and a speedy resolution or a work around. As a minimum, that the service provider is visibly seen to be applying significant and varied efforts to the resolution of the issue. We want to see that the service provider cares.
  • Secondly, we want our expectations to be managed. Communications should keep us informed and be honest about when we should expect service resumption.
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You Need To Act More Like An Interactive Agency…

Two weeks have passed since our successful AD&D and BP Forums in Boston. I’m still struck by conversations we held there and continue to hold now with many of you on how your teams can help deliver to your firm’s ever-important customer experience outcomes. Following one tip can help you either get ahead of this issue or catch up to the expectations of your stakeholders…act more like an interactive agency!

Note I didn’t say “transform” into an interactive agency. No, at the end of the day you have responsibilities to your organization the agencies your business peers use often don’t – you have to manage, operate, and maintain what’s been delivered. What I did say was “act” like one, and in doing so you’ll need to:

  1. Revisit your talent. For those of you that haven’t outsourced big portions of development, make sure you have great, creative developers, build a high-performance development team, and up-skill your business analysts by putting personas and customer journey maps into their tool kit. Why? The agencies your peers use have and cultivate these skills. At minimum, you'll be in a better position to manage and maintain what they’ve put in place if you have complementary skills of your own. If you have outsourced development, we can help you make the case to bring back the right pieces.
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“Run IT As A Business?” Do You Really Know What This Means?

The IT Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) community has long been awash with management buzzwords and phrases such as "think outside the box," “bare metal,” “IT-to-business alignment,” “ivory tower,” “NextGen,” “people, process, and technology,” “innovation,” "what does good look like?" and “resonate.” More recently we have had to endure such gems as “cloudwashing,” “hash tag abuse,” “virtual sprawl,” and “cloudenomics” (please take a deep breath, don’t let them wind you up).

Another longstanding “buzzphrase” (no, I didn’t make this word up) is that I&O organizations need to “run IT as a business.” I imagine that most of us have used it (I plead “guilty” milord), at least in conversation, but do we really know what it means or what we need to do for I&O to achieve a business-like state?

Firstly, the “run IT as a business” mantra is wrong – well, partially. I&O organizations must indeed adopt practices to run as a business function, but not necessarily as a full business in itself.

One of the most prevalent areas in need of attention is that of the ITIL-espoused discipline of IT financial management. In that business-success not only stems from having a great product (or service) coupled with great customer service, there also needs to be an understanding of the cost of provision, the cost drivers, and the margins involved. Not having this understanding can only expose I&O’s lack of business acumen and capabilities, and make it difficult to compete in the new IT delivery landscape.

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