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2016 - The Year of Connected Customer

12/18/2015 04:21 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2015

We are at the beginning of the connected customer revolution. The rise of the connected customer is driven by revolutions in technology - cloud, mobile, social, data science and the Internet of Things.. According to Pew Research, one-fifth of Americans report going online 'almost constantly'. By 2016, Gartner estimates that the install base of devices will total 7.8 billion units (including wearables, phones, tablets and PCs). Behind every connected device on the Internet is person - connected customers will generate trillions of transactions.

In a hyper connected, knowledge sharing economy, companies must re-invent and significantly enhance or replace their existing processes in order to be a relevant part of this customer revolution. To stay relevant means companies must evolve and develop the ability to maintain and foster 1-to-1 customer relationships..

Although most companies recognize the importance of customer relationships, they lack the necessary skills, processes and technology to utilize data to their advantage. Most businesses are drowning in customer and employee data, yet they're unable to quench their thirst for actionable insights that deliver customer value and successful business outcomes. IDC research shows that less than one percent of customer data is analyzed by businesses today. The inability to analyze customer data results in 77% of customer who are not engaged with companies that they do business with. Companies cannot afford to ignore the connected customer.

Here are eight transformational digital business initiatives and technology investment opportunities that all businesses should consider in 2016:

1. Customer service organizations must deliver self-service capabilities with instant support to video, social and community contact channels. Customer service empowerment will require a well-orchestrated self-service architecture, including knowledge-management, mobile case management apps, live video service and community access. According to Forrester, in 2014, web self-service was the most commonly used communication channel for customer service, exceeding phone use. Forrester notes the benefits of delivering knowledge to the customer or customer-facing employee at the right time in the engagement process is not only critical to a successful interaction, but it also delivers positive outcomes such aseducing customer service costs, increasing customer satisfaction, increased compliance, and increasing revenue. Service organizations will begin to invest in knowledge management solutions and mobile technologies, because connected customers value their time - 55% of US online adults say that they are very likely to abandon their online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their question. "77% [customers] say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service." - Kate Leggett, Forrester.

2. The majority of customer facing business applications will be created by citizen developers. The explosive growth of 'citizen' mobile application development capabilities outside of IT is due to a number of factors, mainly led by the demand for such apps far outweighing IT's capacity to deliver by an average of 5x.. In 2016, non-Information Technology (IT) mobile app development communities, will leverage Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solutions to deliver instant value to customer, partner and employee ecosystems using 'low code platforms.' In addition, according to IDC, by 2018, there will be 22 billion internet of things devices installed, driving the development of 200,000 new IoT apps and services.

CRM solutions must be mobile, social and powered by real-time, rich analytics - no exception. Today, nearly 90% of time spent on smart devices is with an app - with only 10% on web browsers. Given that digital savvy and high performing teams run their business on mobile devices (mostly smartphones), the demand for customizable, scalable and highly secure intelligent mobile applications will continue to far exceed IT's capability to meet stakeholder needs.

3. Marketing organizations will significantly bolster their strategic relevance by investing in community and e-commerce platforms. Marketing will deliver incremental revenue, shorten the sales cycle and increase customer loyalty by owning community and e-commerce capabilities - in the process, earning a strong strategic position within the business. Companies that fail to actively grow their communities will lose market share. By 2020, 30% of all purchases will be made through an online community, according to Vanessa Thompson of IDC. The advantage of communities also extend beyond sales and marketing and will also significantly improve customer service delivery. Forrester forecasts that B2B eCommerce will reach $1.1 trillion by 2020 (12.1% of the $9.93 trillion US B2B commerce market by 2020), noting that today, 74% of B2B buyers research at least one-half of their work purchase online.

4. Information Technology (IT) will adopt and develop new digital skills - cloud computing, mobile, big data and social analytics - to maintain business relevance - CIOs will hire two types of CDOs (chief digital officer and/or chief data officer) to ensure business and technology alignment. CIOs will also increase their employee training and staff augmentation budgets. In order to meet the line-of-business demands on innovation - example mobile app development - CIOs will dedicate and insert full-time business analysts to sales, marketing, finance, and engineering and other key business functions. According to Gartner, "digital business demands that CIOs and their IT organizations develop digital technology skills such as cloud, mobile, big data and social analytics.":

5. Human Resources will drive business adoption of wearable technologies to improve employee health and engagement - Adoption of wearable tech will become mandatory part of employment with strict enforcement and recognition policies. Gartner estimates that over 740 million wearables will be in use in 2016, up 20 percent from 2015. According to Gartner, by 2018, 2 million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices as a condition of employment. According to IDC, by 2017, 40% of companies will be actively 'listening' to their employees on social to gauge engagement and improve customer satisfaction. Part of this listening and engagement will be enabled by wearable technologies will instant connections to internal employee communities and social networks, with engagement policies designed to monitor employee health, productivity and career growth, engagement and overall job satisfaction.

6. CMOs will increase their investment in marketing automation - Customer engagement is more than marketing. Digital savvy marketers will develop audience profiles and customer journey maps to engage at every step of the customer success journey. Marketing precision will be at the top of the CMOs agenda requiring investments in marketing automation, social marketing, marketing analytics, and content management solutions with strong emphasis in segmentation analysis via buyer personas and buyer process maps (BMP), by industry, by geography. Real-time 1-to-1 customer engagements will require extensive contextual intelligence - ability to monitor, analyze and recommend personalized next best action - and automation capabilities. Precision marketing will also require ability for marketers to predict and personalize content, and then deliver across the customer preferred channels, at the right time, anywhere (desktop or mobile). To create a 1-to-1 journey across the entire business - sales, services, marketing and community - digital marketers will design a marketing hub, connecting and delivering customer insights to the entire business.

7. New business model innovation is a CEO priority - New business models will be explored, defined and implement, aimed at delivering 'new' streams of revenue (products and services), designed specifically around the use of connected devices and smart machines. According to IDC, by 2017, 30% of large enterprise organizations will be impacted by business model disruption and will be forced to make significant operational changes. Business model disruption extends beyond the explosive growth of connected things. The cloud, mobile and social revolutions have also fueled the app-economy. The difference between market takers and market makers is not product innovation, it is business model innovation and customer experience.

8. Data-driven sales organizations will outperform the market - Analytics led sales cultures and mindsets, including talent acquisition, training, re-designed processes and data tech investments will result in increased revenue, profits, user experience and customer's total lifetime value. In order to do so, sales will hire big data and analytics talent into sales operations and will develop a much stronger alliance with marketing and external stakeholders. Data driven sales processes will require investments in mobile app and social collaboration technologies. More companies will appoint chief revenue officers (CROs), solely responsible for developing and cultivating a data-driven, customer centric culture. In some companies, the CMO will report directly to the CRO. Further alignment of sales and marketing will include inside sales reporting inside of the marketing organizations - optimal funnel alignment and definition of common 'hand-off' success metrics between marketing and sales.

In summary, the customer revolution has changed the rules of business and engagement models. Every single connection is an opportunity for businesses to distinguish themselves as trusted advisors. As long as companies realize that behind every connected thing is a customer - a connected customer that expects a personalized experience, a smart experience and one that is mutually beneficial and relevant. Welcome to the connected customer revolution.

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