IBM's Global CxO Study Shows That You Irrefutably Live In The Age Of The Customer

Yesterday, Forrester released two important reports: one on the business masteries you need in The Age Of The Customer and one on the Business Technology you need to succeed in it.

Serendipitously, IBM this week released its global study of 4,183 CxOs from around the world. The title? The Customer-activated Enterprise. The study carries irrefutable evidence that we already live in the age of the customer, which we define as "a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers." Here's my analysis of IBM's data:

  • First, CxOs see customers are a critical influence on their company's strategic vision and business strategy. Over half of global CxOs place customers ahead of all other influencers except the C-Suite itself as a strategic influence on the firm. And they don't mean the company's perception of what customers need. They mean customers themselves: eighty-two percent of CEOs believe they include customers in defining new products and services today. That's a ubiquitous desire, folks: CEOs want customers themselves to define the firm's new products and services.
  • For CMOs and CIOs, this desire means that it's time to go beyond social listening and customer feedback programs to instead place customers front and center in your ecosystem of existence. You need to become customer-obsessed. Invite customers to see your product operations, get their buy-in on product enhancements, give them immediate feedback that their help has translated into something positive.
  • Second, CEOs rank technology factos above all other external forces in shaping their organization's future (see Figure 1). CEOs place technology factors first. CMOs and CIOs rank market factors first ahead of technology factors. Now we see the challenge facing CIOs and CMOs: Who's right? Well, customer-obsession says that you are all right. Customers come first. So CMOs and CIOs are right. And only business technology -- which we define as "technology, systems, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers" can help you acknowledge your customers' power and surpass their expectations. So CEOs are right, too. Maybe more right ;-).
  • Lastly, customers live in the physical world, and they want your company to be there, too. Eighty-seven percent of CMOs expect to integrate every customer touchpoint through a coherent digital strategy within five years -- but only 16% do so today. So there's huge work to do here. Customers expect you to unshackle your digital services from a browser and deliver them directly into their physical context and moments of need -- what we call mobile engagement.
  • Mobile devices and connected products are the carriers of your digital strategy into the physical world. But the strategy itself -- to engage customers directly and immediately in their moments of need -- will be meaningless unless your customers are involved. Once more, you will need to embed business technology and in particular new systems of engagement into your customer-obsession.

At Forrester, we have been analyzing the role of customers in marketing (harnessng the Groundswell of social media), product development (co-creation), and employee productivity (Empowered employees, BYOD, and consumerization) for over 10 years. But in the age of the customer, we are all just getting started to even know that we need new business disciplines for customer-obsession and for business technology. At least we won't be bored. We will all learn to live in the interesting times of ever-rising customer expectations.


Figure 1 CEOs Rank Technology Factors First Among External Forces Shaping The Company