Many commentators claim that we are in the “Age of the Customer,” and this spells advantages and drawbacks both for customer-facing companies as well as the consumers themselves. Access to information for customers allows them to make more informed decisions than was ever possible in the past. On the other hand, consumer-oriented companies have more, quantitative and qualitative data on customers, even at the individual level. Behavior patterning, voice biometrics, psychographic data, and predictive analysis give retailers the ability to specifically target their offerings towards customers.
What this is doing beyond the realm of retail is interesting. Forward-thinking enterprises are rethinking their relationship and interface with their employees, in some cases looking at them as “customers” of sorts. Business processes and workflows are re-examined with an eye towards employee engagement, similar to how retailers may analyze their “customer journey.”
Embracing New Attitudes
“It’s a step-up from earlier ergonomics principles due to the meeting of multiple disruptions at the same time such as automation, robotics, cloud services, mobility, and data-driven analysis. ‘Customer age’ should mean building simplicity and elegance in the way enterprises work and think, right from technology, people, and processes,” says Everest Group Practice Director Yugal Joshi. “It’s not only about ‘external-facing’ relationships, but the entire value chain. The way services are created and delivered. The way they are evolved and preserved. The focus should not only be on ‘revenue generation’ through commercial relationships and one more ‘sales channel,’ but fundamentally creating an efficient organization that runs lean. Digital transformation has the potential to perhaps provide more certain cost savings when leveraged across internal processes than the uncertain revenue enhancement through customer-focused strategies.”
What the Age of the Customer should mean for companies is the internalization of the concept that every person or entity a service is provided to, internal or external, as a customer. When this service attitude is embraced, not only is the soft benefit realized of increasing stakeholder engagement, but efficiencies are created and business processes are improved. Just as forward-thinking retailers are now focused on customer effort, the effort required to complete processes—not just for employees, but even applying this towards processes and workflows (man & machine) can be reduced, always leading to improvement.
As Joshi puts it, “Organizations need to focus on ‘stakeholders’ rather than just customers. Stakeholders should be everyone: employees, partners, different business units beyond sales and marketing, IT operations, and of course customers. Too much obsession over the ‘end-customer’ will be counterproductive. Unless the entire value chain is digitized, piecemeal adoption may only improve one aspect and create inefficiency across others. It is easier to get funding for sales and marketing initiatives as they are perceived to provide quick RoI.”
Joshi continues: “However, internal operations that already are termed and are stigmatized as ‘cost centers’ find it hard to get the needed funding. This disconnect between the front-end processes catering to the consumers and the enabling processes done by back-end resources, creates overhead for the organization and an overall inferior experience for the consumer as well. When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. Therefore, though front-end processes appear a de-facto choice, they must be in sync with the back-end in terms of digital adoption for an enterprise to really succeed.”
Get With It
Going forward, successful companies and organizations of all types, including nonprofits, will do well to embrace the age of the customer, and internalize it into their organizational culture. When this approach is applied to every process, internal and external, the organizations improve and function better. Just as the Information Age ushered in previously unknown applications for analytics, and what eventually became known as “big data,” the Age of the Customer is the rational evolution from this, allowing organizations to use those foundations to drive real and tangible improvements, internally and externally.
“What many organizations are not realizing is that digital strategies should make them rethink and re-imagine their role towards all the stakeholders in the enterprise, not only the customer,” adds Joshi. “For sure, customer success is key to the business, however, it is tightly linked to organizations’ overall perspectives about customers and other stakeholders—how much they respect, understand, and value all the stakeholders. Successful businesses always kept customers at the center and designed their business models around them. Laggards never did that. Digital strategy will not change this. Not all enterprises will become ‘customer aware’, and there will be winners and losers. However, unlike other technology disruptions, digital is deep rooted and can create existential crisis for enterprises that are unwilling to leverage it or change accordingly.”