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CRM in the age of the customer

This article appears in the issue April 2013 [Volume 22, Issue 4]
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Buyers have more knowledge—and therefore power—than ever. With online reviews and mobile Web access, your customers know more about your products, your services, your competitors and pricing than you do. The more information a buyer has, the greater his bargaining power with suppliers.

Employees have more clout with companies. In a knowledge economy, people are a key ingredient of any product. If they don't get what they want, they can jump ship and go work for someone else—and they're doing this more and more. Your customers will follow the talent that creates quality content and relationships, leaving your company behind.

Your competitors have instant access to your tactics and strategies. Your own customers share their experiences online, search engines expose interest in keywords, and everything your competition wants to know about you is on your website and those of your best influencers. In short, customers practically lay granular insight about you at your competitors' feet.

Coping with digital disruption

As you make implementation plans, take into account these three customer experience (CX) trends identified in Forrester's CRM Playbook that drive CRM strategy and planning agendas.

Trend 1: Enterprises are navigating digital disruption.

A new breed of competitors has arrived: digital disruptors. Those companies and individuals embrace digital tools and platforms to get closer to customers and engage them more deeply. The competitors can come from anywhere; unopposed, they will steal your customers and disrupt your business.

In 2013, more organizations will turn their attention to devising strategies to both cope with and take advantage of digital disruption. Although best practices are still emerging, Digital Disruption spotlights the most effective principles to follow:

  • Adopt a digital disruptor's mindset—in an era where digital possibilities are rapidly erasing analog barriers, these organizations embrace an attitude of continuous innovation.
  • Behave like a digital disruptor—these organizations experiment and continually add new benefits to their product experience.
  • Disrupt yourself now—everyone, at every level, must accept that they have the responsibility to become digital disruptors within their domains as well as across traditional silos.

Trend 2: Companies are transforming to become experience-driven organizations.

CRM initiatives are often (and correctly) criticized as focusing too much on siloed, internal business processes in marketing, sales, support, the Web channel or the call center. As a result, CRM efforts miss key moments that matter to customers—for example, receiving a bill from the accounting department that accurately reflects customer expectations set by a purchase made over the phone with a customer service representative. More enlightened companies define customer management strategies from the outside in, articulating a customer management strategy defined in customers' terms that can be used to guide organizational improvement efforts.

In 2013, more organizations will move beyond empty goals such as "becoming customer-obsessed" and instead begin to define clear, actionable and disciplined CX strategies. To orchestrate a consistent on-brand experience, firms need a CX strategy that defines the intended experience, directs employee activities and decision-making, and guides funding decisions and project prioritization. The intended experience specifies the target customers, describes the desired emotional response and offers unique value. Directing decision-making means spelling out the CX guiding principles for employees. Steering resources to the right projects means filtering funding requests using guidelines that include CX criteria.

Trend 3: Brands are turning their attention to CX design.

Companies in nearly every industry disappoint their customers, especially when customers cross channels. Even companies that make CX a strategic priority struggle to implement long-lasting improvements. Many CX initiatives don't realize their full potential—or worse, fail completely—because neither employees nor partners have a complete picture of what CX actually entails or the dynamics that go into creating it.

In 2013, organizations will increasingly embrace the concept of the "customer experience ecosystem," which we define as: the complex set of relationships among a company's employees, partners and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions

The right customer interactions, across all touch points, don't just happen. Instead, they must be actively designed. That requires learning—and then sticking to—the steps in a CX design process.  

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