Transformation from the outside in

The technology behind multi-channel is complex, so are the operational and service ramifications. It puts a layer of complexity on top of your business that is significant. The flip side is that customers reward you for doing it well.

- Matt Hyde, EVP of Merchandising and Marketing, REI From Spencer Stuart report, “The Multichannel Leadership Challenge, Identifying the right talent for a company’s e-evolution,” 2009

“In two-thirds of the organizations that outperform their peers, leaders are not just managing customer experiences; they are reorienting their organizations, strategies and investments to cultivate contemporary relationships across all manner of customer interactions.”

- From “The Customer-Activated Enterprise: Insights from the IBM Global C-
Suite Study,” December 2013

Customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with ever-growing expectations of their shopping experiences. Exceed their expectations, and they reward you with their loyalty. Fall short, and they tell everyone. Continuous Commerce—personalized, multi-channel shopping experiences—transforms the way brands engage with their customers on their terms by seamlessly integrating marketing, purchasing, and ongoing relationship-building across all touch points, in both the physical and digital realms.

To define, build, and maintain a multi-channel shopping experience that truly exceeds customers’ expectations often requires a transformation in how brands operate behind the scenes—how they make decisions, align resources, work together, and allocate and manage their marketing and technology investments. It’s critical to ensuring proper customer focus and see to it that the right skills, processes and structures are in place to achieve the Continuous Commerce vision.

The drive for this transformation must start at the highest levels within the organization—meaning the C-suite, even the Board. A clear vision of what will be achieved, and how the customer and business will be impacted, is necessary to gain their buy-in and advocacy in enabling the necessary changes throughout the organization. A prototype visualizing the desired customer experience becomes the North Star for both leadership and the broader organization, providing a tangible reminder of the vision and helping them to constantly focus and realign as they address day-to-day challenges. A detailed business case outlining required investment, a deployment road map and benefit timeline, and a readiness plan are necessary to ensure the organization fully understands and is invested in the required changes.

The organization must then ask itself whether it has the necessary skills and resources, and the right structure to ensure that its employees’ expertise is properly leveraged, their specific needs are met, and accountability is properly managed. Does the staff have the necessary depth and breadth of skills given the focus on customer behaviors and needs? Increasingly, organizations are embedding customer-experience strategists, user-experience designers and ethnographic researchers on teams to champion the customer through strategy and development. Organizations frequently leverage customer-facing resources, such as service and sales associates, to can provide guidance—or, better, assume front-office roles to help infuse the organization with first-hand customer insight and empathy.

Once the proper skills, resources and organizational structure are in place, the business must adopt processes to drive collaboration across functional silos, manage efficiency, and ensure that business priorities and technical feasibility are always balanced by a view of what’s right for the customer. Consumers should be seen as partners throughout the entire process—informing the vision and strategy, defining and validating requirements, helping to prioritize features and rollout timing, and testing all aspects of the customer experience, from messaging to interfaces to tools to processes. Ethnographic research, customer engagement through advisory panels and roundtables, and comprehensive usability testing should be embedded in program plans as mandatory milestones.

Continuous Commerce requires an enabling technology platform that is seamlessly integrated, specifically configured to support the ideal customer experience, and extensible to support growth. This poses significant challenges to organizations as to whether they have existing solutions in place or not.

Where infrastructure already exists, it was likely built and “grew up” within individual functional silos across the business. Disparate systems are difficult and costly to integrate, often resulting in compromises to the customer experience and hampering the free flow of data required to drive personalization and ongoing optimization. A suboptimal customer experience will limit uptake, and the expense of squeezing additional extensibility out of the system is likely to offset the value of any realized growth. Finally, assuming those systems will still continue to support current operations, implementing significant changes can jeopardize business continuity.

Where a company is implementing a largely new platform, it’s crucial that it first invest in the right resources and establish a truly customer-centric development process to properly manage and fully leverage the investment, and to ensure the resulting customer experience achieves the desired vision. Businesses are increasingly adopting Customer Experience Management tools such as IBM Tealeaf to monitor not only the business performance of the system, but also to gather insights into how customers use the system to drive ongoing improvement and optimization.

It’s a common mantra now to “put the customer at the center.” It’s one thing to say this and another to do it—after all, enabling organizations with the necessary skills, processes, systems, and tools to be truly customer-centric requires considerable investment and change to current operations. But research is proving the investment is worthwhile.

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