Here are 8 steps to create a customer-unified, resilient company in a hybrid work market

Companies can only be truly customer-centered with digital and operational transformation.
Written by Brian Solis, Contributor

As the world starts to open up, the incredible velocity of digital growth experienced since 2020 will appear to wane. There will be reports of customers who were driven to become digital-first in 2020 shifting to physical activity. Don't get caught up in the minutiae of a binary vision of the future. Plan for continuous shifts and disruption. 

There will be customers who prefer to spend their time online, those who enjoy interacting in the real world, and those who seek hybrid experiences where something new emerges in the middle. The most certain way to grow in a post-pandemic economy is to organize around customers and the insights that reveal behaviors, preferences, and expectations as tastes, times, and trends change. 

Regardless of buying paradigms and platforms, digital-first behaviors have permanently shifted from 2019-2022. As a result, customers have unlocked next-level skills of discovery and experimentation and escalated their standards for how they want to engage and be served. And, research already shows that almost two-thirds (61%) of customers anticipate spending more time online than they did pre-pandemic. This means that any semblance of a new or next normal for customers isn't likely to happen. The answer is to not respond to every twist and turn as it occurs. By organizing around customer data and insights, businesses will become resilient. These "Customer 360" companies will always be in step with market evolution, and over time, in a position to even anticipate change. 

Understanding the customer becomes the most direct path to delivering value-added, innovative customer experiences (CX) in real-time. The timing couldn't be better to have this conversation. CX was ranked as the number one priority for business transformation, according to a new report by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services (HBRAS) in partnership with Salesforce. The study, "Making Customer Experiences the Heart of the Enterprise," also found that 88% of executives say that the future success of their business is defined by having a complete and consistent view of their customers across channels and platforms.

The research shows that great CX is built on two key pillars: insight and engagement.  Yet, only 17% of executives say their organizations are either excellent in both insight and engagement or excellent in one and good in the other. Furthermore, only 15% of companies say they have a unified (360°) view of customer data and the organizational structure to make use of those insights. 

The key to true customer-centricity is not only to assemble a 360° view of the customer. It's also to organize around data-driven insights, sourced across the entire consumer journey, to deliver meaningful engagement when they matter most to customers.

In fact, HBRAS learned that 88% of respondents say it is very important to the future success of their business to have a complete and consistent view of their customers across sales, service, and support channels and platforms. Nevertheless, the reality is that only a tiny fraction of businesses around the world feel equipped. 

The path to CX innovation and market adaptability starts with data-centricity and operational transformation around insights and engagement. It's not an overnight process, but it is possible with the right leadership, steps, and support. 

In my role at Salesforce, I have the opportunity to work with some of the world's most incredible companies. In each engagement, whether it's with functional leaders in service, marketing, commerce/sales, innovation, technology, or if it's directly with the C-suite or boards, the conversation inevitably focuses on the "how" of change. I'm often asked, "What's our next step?" or "Where do we start?"
I was inspired by the HBRAS research to put together a series of next steps that move critical functions away from a remote operational state toward true customer-centricity. Organizations need an overlapping, cross-functional approach to connect Customer 360 to insights, and then to connect insights to actionable processes that facilitate remarkable customer engagement. 

8 Steps to Create a Customer-Unified Company

Here are eight steps that can help you create a customer-unified company where data, insights, and engagement deliver customer experiences with a competitive advantage:

1. Listen to your customers

Embed customer listening into your business to collect feedback from customers at every stage of their journey with your brand. Establish a baseline for quality based on your business goals and your customers' expectations. Act on those insights cross-functionally. This is what's known as a voice-of-the-customer function.

2. Establish the standard for end-to-end customer experience

What would your customers say about their experiences in a Net Promoter Score, Customer Satisfaction score, or Customer Lifetime Value score survey? Does this feedback meet your standards or your customers' standards? 

In the report, Rob Goodman, Vice President and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Program Owner at Pacific Life Insurance Co., reminds executives that the experiences customers expect can be influenced by the best engagement in any industry. 

"Customers are basing their expectations off of other companies in other industries, not just yours," Goodman says. "You can't settle for just good enough."

3. Define a framework to translate data into actionable insights that fuel customer success

Delivering unified customer experiences takes comprehensive data. This requires businesses to establish a social contract with customers to encourage the exchange of data for value-added experiences. To continually earn customer data and build trust means applying insights that keep connecting, improving, and personalizing their experiences. Harnessing and organizing around data, extracting meaningful insights, and putting insights into action to deliver useful, usable, and enjoyable experiences creates a data flywheel that keeps spinning and enhancing customer experiences.

  • Unify customer data sources into a holistic view of customer interactions and outcomes.

  • Establish an upgraded data program that connects new or missing data points to a unified data platform for a single and complete view of the customer.

  • Surface relevant and timely insights that inform action across teams and functions.

  • Deliver personalized customer experiences at scale.


Source: The Data Flywheel, Salesforce

4. Connect all the dots with technology

Invest in intelligent, automated, and integrated technology systems that connect data into a single unified view to help employees be more productive. "Our goal was to operate as one company with shared visibility into every relationship and touchpoint," Goodman says. "We needed to organize customer data across the company into a single unique ID for every customer, so our marketing, sales, and service teams have one view of the customer and all their information."

Pacific Life's data hub pulls in data from key business units, then works in concert with its CRM platform to create a unified customer 360° view.

5. Create a CX and data integration leadership committee to align 360° customer insights and engagement

Include stakeholders across business and analytics functions. A chief customer or experience officer, or anyone willing to bring disparate groups together, can lead this group, focusing on implementing CX and data integration across your organization. In fact, companies leading in CX are more than twice as likely to have a chief experience officer driving their CX efforts than companies that have made less progress, according to the recent HBAS survey

Pacific Life recently introduced this position, Goodman says in the report: "The identification of this role recognized the need to assess the voice of the customer holistically across every touchpoint, versus siloed in one area."

6. Decide what's essential

Assess and prioritize the highest value and most critical customer touchpoints to prioritize for digital transformation (insights and engagement). Which customer touchpoints cause the most pain and have the greatest impact on the business? Organize relevant data sources into a single source of customer truth so every team can address critical decision points.

7. Empower every employee with CX skills

Give employees access to insights and skills to apply them toward enhanced engagement. Establish employee training programs on CX success and data proficiency. Ensure unified access to relevant data sources and dashboards, and continually emphasize the value of data-driven insights by supporting it with a Center of Excellence.

8. Give every employee autonomy

Prioritize collaboration in department-level goals and initiatives. Empower individuals at every level of the organization to own decisions in their purview and take actions based on data.

As the world opens up, but still continues to realize the advancement of digital-first behaviors, gaining a 360° view of customers is just the beginning. Data-driven insights elevate the human side of data and reveal the opportunities to engage customers in ways that are more personal, useful, innovative, and even enjoyable.

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