It’s almost hard to imagine life before technology. The emergence of digital, particularly in the past decade, has radically changed the way we live and carved out a new path for how we do business. Digital in the 21st century has become what steel and fabric were to the industrial age – game changers!
As a result, we have now transitioned to a new age - the ‘Age of the Customer’ where consumers are now more savvy, more aware of their choices and have higher expectations than ever before, putting them firmly in the driver’s seat.
This means your technology team has a huge role to play in customer success for your organisation in the future. As consumers, we now expect a more personalised, engaging experience from every brand we deal with, every time. We reward and punish based on our last interaction with your organisation and are not afraid to take to social channels to articulate our experiences – whether it be good or bad – to also influence our peer’s choices.
Your customers also no longer compare your business to your competitors down the road but to global brands like Uber, Amazon and Spotify who deliver relevant, seamless experiences every time. These companies use technology and data to show us they know us and add value to their customers’ lives at every opportunity in the buying journey.
Business success is really quite a simple equation – make it easy for your customers to do business with you across all channels and you will attract and retain more customers. Customer centricity is now imperative in business and is only possible with data.
It used to be that data existed in the backroom somewhere - but without a proper data strategy, you risk being left behind. Data helps you understand your customers’ journey and find opportunities to smooth the path for them. It allows you to focus your attention on the smallest details and create micro-moments of joy for them. Couple that with your online presence and supporting technology to create relevant conversations that empower people in your business to solve customer issues and you have a winning combination.
To compete with large global brands, businesses also need to be driven by both left and right-brain thinking.
So what does this all mean for IT pros?
True customer centricity and success in the ‘Age of the Customer’ requires businesses to have a very unique set of skills to understand what problems need solving and to develop actionable solutions based on data in the shorter term as well as focused longer-term plans.
To compete with large global brands, businesses also need to be driven by both left and right-brain thinking. On the one hand you need the left-brain thinking, which is already prevalent in technology teams, to understand the data and technology to be able to execute on the granular detail to deliver a contextual and personalised experience. On the other hand you then need right-brain thinking which is core to the creative design of an experience that engages customers, shows them you know them and delivers a relevant brand experience.
This requires you and your team to look at everything through a different lens to change and adapt towards a more data-driven culture. It is no longer possible to grow and evolve with either style of thinking in isolation if you want to deliver a complete end-to-end customer experience. To succeed tomorrow, today's businesses need to put a data-driven structure in place.
Silos also need to be broken down within the business for both left and right-brain thinking to combine and create real value. Typically, large businesses still grapple with the fact that there are silos because they don’t have data emphasis from the top down. KPIs are driven by a focus on product rather than customers, on a channel rather than omni-channels.
For many, this requires a massive cultural shift that challenges the norm and involves a significant amount of change.
Every part of a business holds specific data sets that need to be combined and shared across the business to ensure it can provide the right experience to the customer, at the right time. Although many companies may argue they already do this, in practice it is quite difficult to achieve because of legacy systems and territory issues within departments and it also requires a cultural shift in thinking and working as a business holistically.
In my view, only a few companies have managed to do this well so far – and we are proud to be working alongside some of them.
It's also encouraging to see many companies already attempting to do this with the appointment of new roles such as chief data, customer, technology or digital officers.
The whole organisational structure has to change.
And while this is a great step in the right direction, it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem as it adds a whole new level of complexity in governance and structure without affecting real cultural change.
To execute on being customer-centric, agile and innovative, the whole organisational structure has to change. There’s no point having a chief data officer who only focuses on the data and a technology officer who is only focused on infrastructure and operations without having visibility of the customer.
For many, this is where it all gets moved to the ‘too hard’ basket as structural changes require significant organisational upheaval, commitment, cost and leadership. But a new structure and customer-centric culture is fundamental to being data-driven. Everyone in the business needs to understand what you are trying to achieve with data, why it is important, why you are capturing or sharing it and what the risks are.
The smart leaders of today already know that to gain a competitive advantage, they have to devise a long-term strategy to pull together the huge volumes of raw data that is being produced within their businesses every day and turn it into actionable intelligence. And fast, before their competitors do. And this requires massive action and change. Are you already on that journey - or up for the challenge in 2018? It may be easier than you think – you just have to make a start!
Carmen Vicelich is founder and managing director of Valocity and Data Insight. A self-confessed ‘data-geek’, she is passionate about helping clients deliver innovation and game-changing value through the power of data. She is also the author of ‘The Data Revolution’ - an executive guide to becoming a data-led business to compete in the ‘Age of the Customer’.
Get the latest on digital transformation: Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, career tips, views and events. Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz Join us on Facebook.
Send news tips and comments to email@example.com
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.