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Here is a modern day 'the chicken or the egg' scenario. What came first,  a business’s digital capabilities or a customer’s need for digital relevance from businesses?

Does it really matter? What does matter is that businesses must be digitally wired with a consumer-focused mind set in order to succeed in today’s highly competitive landscape.

Constant volatility typifies the modern business landscape, and the changing way people live their lives always connected is today’s reality.

Indeed, people shop, learn, stream movies and music, participate in micro-lending, and share opinions online. And, more and more of these actions are taking place through mobile devices. As a result, desktop advertising is predicted to peak in 2014 while mobile advertising will continue to grow.

Customers are not only more connected through new devices and apps they are also more social and have more nuanced needs. To connect with today’s customers and endear loyalty, businesses should be at the right place (virtually or physical), with the right message or offer, at the right time every time.

In order for this to happen, brands must digitally transform to meet the evolving needs and expectations of their customers by aligning the types of experiences it is delivering and tuning its internal organization, processes and technologies to enable them.

As we are quickly approaching 2014, a time of resolutions, here are the three main areas businesses should focus on to start their journey to achieving a successful customer-centric digital transformation and reap the resulting business benefits long after we ring in the New Year.

1. Delight your customers 

Customer relevance is king. Digitally connected customers can positively impact a company’s growth and bottom-line more than ever before. This fact has not gone unnoticed either.

According to the Accenture CMO Insights survey, customers’ expectations for relevant experiences are having a very important impact on a brand’s long-term marketing strategies – more so than any other trend. 

Customers today are challenging companies to find new ways to connect with them with the 'right promise.' To take this thought further, effective customer experiences aren’t just about offering customer service or producing the best possible customer experience in a singular, right moment.

It includes all customer facing activities (marketing, sales and service) and involves curating experiences based on a customer’s intent in real-time. What they’re trying to achieve or what they view as valuable in that right moment.   

Case in point, a company may believe it knows its loyal customers and are ready to deliver relevant experiences but we know that today’s consumers have dynamically changing needs, objectives and definitions of value.

For example, I have vastly different wants when I travel for work vs. on vacation with my family. But even the hospitality brands of which I’m most loyal (who have truckloads of data about my preferences) can easily miss those important distinctions.

To make useful experiences happen it requires utilizing customer data in advanced ways to  predict  a customer’s ideal experience, create the experience and deliver it via the customer’s preferred channel and helps achieve the desired outcome – consistently every time and over time.

An essential starting point to accomplish this is by applying next-generation customer analytics and insights. By using a mix of behavioural data, artificial intelligence technologies, and predictive modelling, businesses can identify the key consumer attributes and segments as well as gain a more intimate understanding of the new stages and influences in today’s digital customer lifecycle such as peer-to-peer engagement and recommendations and new conversion points in the decision process, such as likes, retweets and in-store engagement.  

The goal is to target and align those experiences with unique business objectives to determine the optimal approach for your organization. Through the more precise narrowing of the “best” attributes and behaviors segments and individual profiles can be both richer and more comprehensive.  

This is the fuel that leads to delivering more meaningful and useful experiences. 

And this goes way beyond personalization or receiving relevant content. Customers can be further delighted by receiving materials that are simulating, appealing and improve their experience with the brand.

For instance, Service Design is a growing trend at the moment as it creates interesting customer-centric user experiences at its core. Take Fjord’s case study on Garanti’s new mobile service called iGaranti, for example.

In short, iGaranti provides a wholly new approach to banking as it offers users an array of ‘atomised’ personal finance tools within one definitive service, devised specifically for mobile devices.  

The connected car is another example where new experiences ranging from local restaurant recommendation to safety tips and service reminders to music to match your RPMs are redefining what it means to ‘get your motor running.’

2. Re-orient your business (for your customer)

Re-orienting a business toward digital may sound straightforward, but according to our CMO Insights survey, CMOs report they are lagging in execution. 68% of CMOs say it’s important to create value from digital channels, but only 13% of CMOs say their organization’s performance is cutting edge. 

A company wishing to succeed in today’s digital world needs to instigate a culture change and draw up a new organizational blueprint, which provides the framework for an integrated channel experience across all channels and specific to brands, business units and most importantly, the customers they serve.

Customer-centricity and creating relevant, positive experiences for customers should be a priority in all aspects of an organization’s value chain, not just marketing.

With the explosion of channels and devices, if companies are not delivering a connected and continued experience, they risk incurring additional operational cost, thereby frustrating customers and partners and negatively impacting the bottom line.

However, as most businesses are organized into departmental silos, they operate independently. This lack of integration across departments means the brand experience can be anything but seamless for the customer or efficient for the company. Silos must be removed for the customer and for the business to prosper.

Another facet involves companies aligning their vision, messages and offerings to their customers’ core values. This will demonstrate that the company cares about its societal presence and impact, and is not merely focused on generating a profit.

Here’s a very important fact: to succeed, a business must be built on a foundation of analytics and a new set of KPIs that rally around the customer. As the ecosystem of consumers becomes increasingly digitized, analytics is moving to a core business decision making capability.

A different culture needs to be embraced, where marketing and IT teams together with others teams across the value chain share skills, collaborate seamlessly, and organizational silos are broken down.

Through examining data and using marketing analytics, innovation can then take the form of quick product and service launches and lead to continuous engagement in response to identified customer needs or aspirations. 

3. Flex your platform (for your customer) 

What can be a powerful tool for a business? And also be a competitive differentiator? The ability to scale its platform, as needed, to meet the business and customer needs through optimizing marketing, content, and commerce operations and technologies.

Customer relevance impacts the entire enterprise - getting it right improves performance, leadership and innovation. We don’t want to think about what can happen when it’s executed poorly.

To avoid the negative, businesses should look into cost-effectively scaling every essential function while continually monitoring performance in real time and rapidly responding to new consumer insights.

Also, less is often more. Smartly aligning data and technology processes to ensure a highly targeted experience can improve customer retention, drive sales and sustain return on investment, for both new and existing customers.

As one of many efficiency-driving marketing examples, let’s look at web content management systems and services. Organizations can create a shared service environment that spans geographies and languages, reducing their dependence on IT involvement and increases speed to market.

This provides greater flexibility and agility when crafting personalised experiences and tailored messages. The ability to scale is also critical and can be viewed from a number of dimensions.  

It is also central to creating the distributed business processes to create and manage content so that it supports high levels of relevance at scale. 

Conclusion: Transform or fall behind

We live in a time where markets and industries are being re-shaped by a world that is increasingly digitized. Companies strive to create a digital transformation strategy but soon realize that ‘digital’ is inextricable linked to or impacts myriad core functions, with seemingly endless interdependencies on the road to success.  

Thus a digital transformation strategy quickly become a business transformation initiative. The companies that do not embrace innovation risk falling behind their competitors and those companies that are still managing their channels separately are already on that slippery slope.

High performing companies will be those that embrace customer-centric digital transformation, enabling them to be dynamic, precise, and agile.

Cheers to a successful customer-focused digital transformation in 2014. Cheers to the customer.

Econsultancy currently has a range of services available that can help guide organisational change, business restructuring and digital transformation strategy

Glen Hartman

Published 3 December, 2013 by Glen Hartman

Glen Hartman serves as Senior Managing Director for Digital Transformation at Accenture Interactive and is a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him at @hartmanglen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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