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Customer-activated communication and collaboration will drive a new era of KM

This article appears in the issue January 2015, [Vol 24, Issue 1]
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Listening and responding to the voice of the customer is rapidly becoming an imperative. And while that represents a great start, real transformation will require a much more profound pivot on the part of the enterprise. The customer-activated enterprise (CAE) is one that allows every employee to leverage the voice of the customer in every decision every day.

Application development and deployment professionals need to lead this transformation in three key ways:

  • Align with colleagues, starting with marketing, who are currently investing in technology to ensure common business objectives are met.
  • Provision technology that aligns with standards that ensure that technology across multiple parts of the company can be integrated to drive maximum value.
  • Drive a business technology (BT) agenda that transforms critical parts of the organization to fully utilize new information sources from customers and new communication channels with customers.

This report shows how leading companies are redesigning core processes like product development and fulfillment to align with customer demands.

Three key takeaways

Capturing data and fully leveraging data are very different things. Survey data is unambiguous—we are capturing more information from customers than ever before, but it’s trapped in silos primarily controlled by marketing and communications. That valuable data is highly desired by all parts of the organization.

Activating customer insight holds huge promise to drive the BT agenda. Moving from IT to a true BT agenda requires a technology vision that transforms your organization from listening to customers to obsessing about customers. Freeing critical data and opening direct lines of communication are the first steps to achieving that.

Now is the time to begin the drive toward a customer-activated enterprise. The foundational investments for a new way of work are in place today. We’ve begun the process of connecting customers to parts of the organization as well as employees to employees. Now is the time to align those strategies and fully connect all parts of your business to the voice of the customer.

Employees really want to engage customers

Social, mobile, big data and cloud change how buyers expect to interact with brands. Prospects and customers want to get what they want, in their immediate context, at their moments of need, from any device they choose. Firms that turn the real-time conversations streaming from those sources into insight can better create new products, solve problems or meet other urgent customer demands.

To understand how workers really talk with customers in this digital age, Forrester teamed up with KMWorld  to investigate the state of customer-to-employee communication. The results should concern both CMOs and their executive peers because it reveals a significant gap between how customers want to communicate with us and how firms constrain employees’ use of insight to make business decisions and access to collaborative tools to serve customers better. When it comes to engaging with customers, we found most direct customer-to-employee communication founders because it:

  • happens via traditional means using old-school technologies.Despite the popularity of online channels and interactive technologies like video and message sharing, most customer communication still happens face-to-face, over the phone or through e-mail. By a very wide margin, respondents say they continue to rely on those conventional channels—over alternatives like social media, chat or video conferencing—when interacting with customers (see Figure 1 on page 10, KMWorld January 2015 or download chart). While those technologies are familiar and comfortable, they fall woefully short in their ability to broadly share insights and drive broader collaboration.
  • focuses on solving problems, not building relationships.Empowered customers want to talk to us about their experiences with our brands, products and services. Unfortunately, most respondents feel customers contact them only when they have problems. While talking to customers during work, 62 percent of respondents are resolving issues while another 39 percent are handling complaints (see Figure 2 on page 10, KMWorld January 2015 or download chart). When talking with other employees about customers, 82 percent said complaints dominate the conversation. All of that is surprising because only 13 percent of those surveyed said they work in customer service or a call center.
  • taps internal data sources containing limited customer insight. To make decisions that affect buyers, 72 percent of respondents say they use information provided by internal sources like the company intranet, 59 percent rely on transaction histories and 56 percent tap into the CRM database or “official” voice of the customer information (see Figure 3 on page 10, KMWorld January 2015 or download chart). Hearing directly from customers is low on the list: Only 20 percent listen into the sentiments expressed through social media and, astonishingly, 15 percent don’t talk to customers at all.

Be prepared to fully serve customers

Despite the fact that we’re capturing information about customers from numerous sources, employees are not confident that that they have the information that they need when faced with a wide variety of customer-related issues and opportunities. When asked about the organization’s capabilities with regard to numerous customer-related items, responses hover around 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. At a general level, that indicates significant room for improvement, but diving into the data shows areas of significant concern.

The ability to analyze customer needs rated highest at 6.36 out of 10, all the way down to 5.05 for “capturing data that shows how and why customers buy.” With all of the responses falling into a tight cluster right around the middle of the scale, the key question is whether or not the vast amount of data we’re capturing about customers is fully utilized.

The answer to that question is right in line with the rest of the data. “Sharing information internally, among employees” is rated at a mediocre 5.78 out of 10. Clearly, if information is not effectively shared among employees, employees will not be able to make optimal decisions on any of the other items listed.

Better information drives results

Where the rubber really meets the road in the customer-activated enterprise is when information is made available to all employees in the course of their work. When asked about what would change if employees had access to better customer information, a wide variety of transformative business results emerge. Of particular significance, the result would be:

  • better business decisions.A full 82 percent believe that with better access to customer information, employees would be able to make better business decisions. While that seems obvious, it must be noted that business decisions are made every day because they need to be, but it is clear that they are currently made with suboptimal information.
  • improved customer-centric processes.Organizations are process driven, and many of those processes revolve around winning, serving and retaining customers. Sixty-two percent believe that with better access to customer data, employees would be able to reduce time to handle customer-centric processes. That represents a significant move away from a traditional IT agenda toward a BT agenda that supports customer-obsessed behavior.
  • the nirvana of better products and offerings.Perhaps the most significant finding in the study and the one that holds greatest promise for true transformation is that two-thirds believe that better customer information would improve the quality of products and/or offerings. The opportunity to drive fully differentiated offerings in the market holds the promise to not just win customers, but extended market advantage.

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