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How to Survive the “Customer Apocalypse”

Recently, the owner of a New York hotel decided to fine wedding couples $500 of their deposit funds for each negative review posted online by any of their guests. The policy produced a firestorm of complaints and nearly 700 reviews eviscerating the hotel. The bad press only spread from there.

The irony of this stunningly customer-unfriendly decision is that it showed that the innkeeper understood how dramatically social-media-savvy customers can affect a company’s reputation. Today, customers have no qualms about using the Internet to attempt to destroy businesses that displease them. When you consider that about 1.4 billion consumers now spend 22 percent of their time online, the ability to inflict damage electronically is profound.

What’s more, that practice is by no means limited to the B2C marketplace. Approximately 43 percent of B2B companies now acquire customers from Facebook, reflecting how important the digital customer has become to this market.

“Solutions are designed, developed and changed
in a collaborative and
agile environment.”

The potential for disaster is growing exponentially as young consumers gain buying power and continue to use social media to influence the market’s acceptance or rejection of a business.

Engaging with this new breed of customer requires revamping your organizational structure and culture so that customers are always at the heart of your operations. Here are three ways to begin that transformation:

1. Cross-pollinate technology development. Just as plants may benefit from combining DNA from multiple sources, your company can benefit by combining the DNA of its IT and business people. This concept requires blowing up the traditional software-development model in which the business team sends requirements over to IT and waits patiently for IT to unveil a solution—one that often fails to meet the needs of both the business and its customers. Instead, business and IT people must collaborate on technology development with a focus on the language of business, not the language of programming. Solutions must be designed, developed and changed in an agile environment of phased, iterative and continuous improvement to reflect the changing needs of customers and the business.

A large European telecom, for example, implemented a new model for solution development with collaboration between the IT and business units to address shortcomings in its B2B customer experience. The team broke a large project into phases to transform the experience with a centralized product catalog and an all-inclusive view of the customer that includes personalized price lists, integrates customer-retention programs and creates a standardized view of all customer data aggregated from multiple legacy systems.

2. Rewire the CFO function. For any project, the CFO will ask: How much will it cost? What are we getting for that money? While important, these questions reflect the waterfall-development mindset where the plan and its costs must be defined up front. In an agile environment, where solutions are built in phases, instead of insisting on all the facts up front, CFOs need to make business-grounded decisions about project direction and then supplement these with feedback loops and validation via intermediate results. This tight-interval control ensures that outcomes for a given project will be good—or that it can be stopped before much time and money has been expended.

3. Consider new executive coordination roles. Forward-thinking CEOs now see customer processes as so critical that they are establishing chief process officer roles that elevate the visibility of customer processes, making sure the leverage points that will materially affect the customer experience are addressed across all lines of business, departments, geographies, products and services. In tandem, CEOs are expanding the chief customer officer oversight role to ensure that the customer experience is at the center of the organization’s functions.

A customer apocalypse cannot be avoided simply by creating a hip social-media presence. Successfully engaging with the modern customer requires revamping your organization’s structure so that customer processes are integral, seamless parts of every business operation. It’s the key to not just surviving—but thriving—in a world where a customer apocalypse is just one Tweet away.


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