The rules of engagement for customer-obsessed organizations

Today, customer engagement has shifted. Customers don’t just take what they get; they arrive with an expectation that a brand knows what they want before they even do.

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Customer engagement used to mean the heroic moment—the experience that became a legendary tale of customer service because it was uncommon and unexpected. Back then, customers often had little choice but to simply accept the service that they received. When exceptional service truly happened, it meant someone had gone out of their way to align themselves with a customer need, without being asked.

Today, customer engagement has shifted. Customers don’t just take what they get; they arrive with an expectation that a brand knows what they want before they even do. Paul Papas, Global Leader of IBM Interactive Experience (iX), put it perfectly when he said, “The last best experience anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.” Companies need to master customer engagement in order to become that last best experience. And to master customer engagement you need to be customer-obsessed.

With so much attention and business chatter around big data and AI, you might be led to believe that technology provides all the answers to the uncertainty that surrounds customer engagement. But technology alone cannot transform your business into a customer-obsessed organization. The rise of digital technologies that identify customer needs is disrupting companies of all sizes and industries. Subsequently, executive leadership has not only had to rethink the go-to-market approach for their products and services, but also turn inward to reexamine their employee culture.

Driving customer obsession throughout an entire company requires enabling employees to understand customers as people with individual stories. And of course, you also need to tie that focus to the delivery of specific, measurable outcomes. Customer focus without an understanding of how it impacts your bottom line may help in the beginning, but it won’t be enough to drive and maintain profitable, positive change.

Think about it: customers don’t care about being served by the right department. Instead, empower your employees to own any customer interaction they touch—however and whenever it may occur. To succeed, companies need to find, hire, and retain people who will be engaged in the organization and, most importantly, with the customer, regardless of whether the customer or the interaction falls specifically under their job description.

When shaping customer obsession within your organization, consider these guidelines to drive employee and customer engagement:

  • No one owns the customer but someone always owns the moment. Seize each of those moments before somebody else does. Everyone in the enterprise should know the customer and feel empowered to seize each moment for the purpose of delivering outstanding customer service.
  • Find your equilibrium. This is about you and your organization. You need to define what your enterprise is and what it means to every customer. Unfortunately, for some customers, your organization may not mean much to them at all; it may be just another replaceable cog, the most convenient choice at the time. (That may be the most important thing you hear. If you are astute enough to catch it, probe for more insight, and then act on it.)
  • Identify and establish the natural rhythm of your organization—every organization has one. When people are puzzled by this statement, I point to the Salesforce product release cycle as an example of an organization’s natural rhythm. Once you have identified your organization’s natural rhythm, try to sync it with that of your customers, partners, staff, and other key stakeholders.
  • Keep your bearings in a fluid landscape. Since the advent of the cloud and cloud computing, the business landscape has been as fluid as it gets. Things continuously change. The only sensible response is to avoid setting your business process, architecture, policies, and procedures in concrete. Design your business for maximum flexibility, but also maintain consistency.
  • Engage your people to the max. They want to be engaged and contribute in ways you may not even realize. Your staff produces the multiplier effect, the added profitable production that comes from their efforts. The more you can engage your staff, the more you can stimulate the multiplier effect.
  • Be constantly alert to new, existing, and vampire competition. These are unnoticed competitors that ghost around in the background and shadows until they suddenly emerge into the light and quickly become a force to be reckoned with. These can often be the most dangerous, especially vampire competitors (those previously dead). They can and do arise; just look at Nokia and BlackBerry.
  • Continually explore the role of technology. First, notice how technology is last on this list. It’s not the most important thing, but you still need to constantly monitor technology advances and keep an eye on those that may advance your business goals or open new opportunities you haven’t considered. 

(These guidelines have been excerpted from chapter 2 of the book, Customer Obsessed.)

To see real shifts in business strategy and transformation, companies and their leadership need to change how they think while on the path of their customer-obsessed journey. Taking into consideration not just customer experience as a standalone entity, but also the alignment of people, process, employee culture and technology, will better position your organization to achieve its desired business outcomes.

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