Five Lessons From Customer-Obsessed Executives

That's Danny Meyer, the CEO of Shake Shack on the right, and in the middle is Gwen Uyen Nguyen, from the crowdfunding company Indiegogo (I'm on the left with Dave Evans from Forrester in back). What were companies like Shake Shack and Indiegogo (and Tesla, New York Life, Pure Insurance, Kimberly Clark, Oppenheimer Funds, PBS) doing at the Forrester Age of the Customer Executive Summit?

Simple -- to talk about how they win, serve, and retain their increasingly empowered customers. The CIOs and CMOs who attended our exclusive event understand that the rules of their business have changed -- that the customer has become, in the words of one executive, "...the protagonist in all of their stories." A lot of ground was covered (you can watch videos from the event here) but below are my five favorite learnings:

Lesson One:  Lubricate paths between customers and product builders. JB Straubel, the CTO of Tesla, stated that his company owns its dealers and repair shops because they want an un-interrupted feedback loop between its customers and its engineers. Better loop, better cars.

Lesson Two:  You have to work differently to achieve customer-obsession. According to James McQuivey of Forrester, this is how you work now:  1) Simplicity, not complexity. 2) Immediacy, not latency. 3) Aligned, not siloed. 4) Agility, not rigidity. Sounds obvious. but in reality hard to achieve.

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CX = $$

All CEOs strive to increase revenue. It expands market share and pushes stock prices higher.

In our digital age, how do you get it? As it turns out, good customer experience drives revenue growth. Seems obvious, but it took Harley Manning of Forrester months of research to prove it. You can find the report here (summary unless you are a client...)

Harley examined five U.S. B2C markets in which there was a leader and a laggard in Forrester's CX Index. He compared their revenue growth and CX Index levels over a five year period -- 2010 to 2014.

In cable, CX leader AT&T grew 6.2 times faster than laggard Comcast; in airlines, experience leader JetBlue grew 5.5 times faster than laggard United; in the full service investment industry, the leader Edward Jones' revenue grew 2.6 times faster than laggard Morgan Stanley; in the retail industry, customer experience leader Amazon grew 17 times the rate of laggard Wal-Mart.

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The Forrester 2015 Book Club

Great books, from great clients... Forrester's Board of Clients were in Cambridge this week. This brilliant cross-section of our 2,400 clients tells us what we are doing right, what we can do better, and where we should go. 

I always love the pre-meeting dinner. It typically turns into an intellecutal/techie slug-fest fueled by good wine. We did it this year in the restaurant where Mitch Kapor famously told Steve Jobs, "I'll make you a deal. You stay away from commenting on my dietary habits, and I will stay away from the subject of your personality."

Some random thoughts/conclusions from our discussion... Only one board member had a smart watch (not Apple), but 50% think they will wear one within two years. Moore's Law grinds onward, but corporate organization and culture lag dangerously far behind. Big companies must innovate outside of the core, but then must know how to successfully bring it back inside.

And over dessert we talked about our favorite book of the moment. This year there was a dystopian, sci-fi overtone. Here's the list:

The Circle, by David Eggers. 
Nexus, by Ramez Naam
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Overcoming IT Gravity

Why do CIOs not become CEOs? What prevents them from achieving at the highest organizational levels?

It's because they don't have their hands on revenue, unlike CMOs, CFOs, brand marketers, and strategists.

But now we are entering an era where CIOs must manage two agendas: 1) the internal systems (IT), and 2) the systems, processes, and technologies to win, serve, and retain customers, what we call business technology (BT). As shown, CIOs should be guiding their companies along a path to high IT and high BT -- the place where technology will truly move revenue and profit.

Is it happening now? At the Wall Street Journal CIO Network event, I asked attendees if they were involved with serving customers and building BT agendas -- most of the hands in the room went up. I thought: "Wow...a pretty advanced group." But at the end of the conference the CIOs presented their collective priorities. The word "customer" was nowhere to be seen. The list was a litany of traditional IT agenda items -- from training to H1B visas to creating more of a "business vision," whatever that is.

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What Startups Teach

At Forrester's CIO/CMO Summit in Napa Valley this week I moderated a panel of executives from three digital companies. The panelists were: Liz Crawford, the CTO at Birchbox; Allan Jones, the CMO of ZipRecruiter, and Blair Ethington, the VP of Marketing and Brands at Crowdstar. The audience was primarily large company CIOs and CMOs.  My panel was a chance for them to see the other side of the tracks -- how digitally-native companies are organizing, behaving, recruiting, developing, and thinking. Here are the lessons.

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Apple Follows

Beautiful, but a niche product. I estimate that only 10% of the 250 million worldwide iPhone users will buy the Apple Watch. That's approximately $8-$12 billion of revenue for Apple -- not bad, but hardly the "breakthrough" or "new chapter" claimed from the Cupertino stage.

Why? 1) For many, two devices on the body are unnecessary. Pulling the iPhone out of a pocket or purse is fine -- most will not need another device to access payments or track health. 2) What we wear is a deeply cultural and emotional choice. A watch, like a shirt, shoes, tattoo, skirt, jewelry, contains complex and carefully crafted information about the wearer -- and these messages are continually massaged and warped by the often inexplicable forces of fashion. And no amount of "Milanese" and "buckle" luxury watchband talk can obscure this issue. 3) Wearing a radio directly on the body spooks many people who rationally or irrationally fear the health risks of close electromagnetic radiation. 4) It's expensive -- and not covered by carrier subsidies. It's $600 for the whole package of a subsidized $200 iPhone and the $400 Watch. 5) The form factor has fixed limits -- the small screen obviates advertising, electronics fatten the case, big fingers obscure the screen when touching. For many, the form will be seen as simply ugly. 6) Having to charge yet another device every day will be a bridge too far for many.

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A Customer Syllabus

Stride for stride with Forrester, others have been doing excellent work describing the emergence of the empowered customer. Here's a very short list of notables:

1) Gavin Newsom, the Lieutenant Governor of California,  describes how empowered customers (citizens in this context) will change society when they flex their newfound muscles in the political arena. Citizenville shows how the populace's power will not be restricted to the commercial world.

2) Jim Blasingame has written a prescient book describing how the age of the customer will impact small businesses and what they should be doing to prepare for those changes. Here's a great quote from Jim:  "It's okay to fall in love with what you do, but it's not okay to fall in love with how you do it."

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The CIO's Second Agenda

In addition to managing the IT agendas of their companies, CIOs must build a second agenda of Business Technology (systems, technology, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers). The IT agenda focuses internally on supply chains, financial systems, and administrative technology. These are all critical -- most corporations would stop in minutes without IT. But as empowered and digital customers demand more, BT will emerge to concentrate on technologies -- CRM, systems of engagement, customer apps, customer insight, digital customer service as examples -- that will enhance customer experience.

Forrester does not believe that a Chief Digital Officer will arrive on a white horse to run BT, and we also do not agree with the trendy assertion that marketing is going to be in charge of all customer technology. Because of the close synergy between the IT and BT agendas, we believe that the CIO and his or her staff must adroitly manage both. And as unnatural as it might seem in many organizations, the CIO must execute on the BT agenda in concert with the CMO and business unit leaders. A go-it-alone approach will create havoc and unhappy customers.

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The Forrester Summer Reading List

Last week I had the Forrester Board of Clients in town. As part of our great dinner discussion, I asked each client to name their favorite book of the moment. Here's their recommended list:

Who Owns the Future  Jaron Lanier's diatribe against Google, Facebook and other "siren servers."
Path to Power  Maggie Thatcher's rise to Prime Minister.
Drive  Daniel Pink's tome is an often-noted favorite of Forrester clients. I think it's time for me to read this one...
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Satya Nadella Must Drag Microsoft Into the Age of the Customer

Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, must take three actions to make the company relevant in the Age of the Customer:

1) Attack mobile. Customers are undergoing a mobile mind shift -- an expectation that they can get any information or service on any device at any time wherever they may be. Nadella must establish Microsoft as the third mobile ecosystem, legitimately competing with the formidable franchises of Apple (iOS) and Google (Android). Amazon, with its profit-free business model, will spend unlimited dollars to win the third spot. And a hoard of challengers, from Samsung to Dell to Lenovo will generate confusion and a shower of Hail Mary products in desperate efforts to gain a foothold. Nadella must flawlessly execute in a space that is unfamiliar (he's a cloud guy) and unforgiving. The good news is that Microsoft has a rich history of building powerful ecosystems (e.g., Windows, .NET). But this time around it must approach the market as a challenger, not as the dominant player. Which brings us to...

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