10/23/2013 09:22 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Who's Running The Retail Industry? It's You

As consumers, you've been enjoying a lot of power lately. Thanks to digital tools and an abundance of information, you can generally ask for and receive much more individualized service from your favorite service provider -- whether it be an insurance company, car dealer, a retailer or a bank.

But this may only be the beginning, according to a massive, new IBM study of C-Suite leaders. The findings show that while customers have been in the driver's seat, the C-Suite wants to give you even greater control. This goes way beyond developing new products or services. Now business leaders want you to give input to their corporate strategy.

According to the study, 60 percent of CEOs plan to directly engage their customers and proactively apply what they learn to set their business agendas in the next three to five years -- up from 43 percent of CEOs who now include customers in the development of business strategies.

The discussions with C-suite executives from the retail industry in particular show that, as a group, they are hyper-focused on the experience of you, their customer, and recognizing you as individuals, but admit to lagging in this regard.

Seventy-three percent of C-suite leaders from the retail industry recognize that focusing on customers as individuals will be essential over the next three to five years, compared to 54 percent of the global, multi-industry sample. But only 39 percent of retail C-suite leaders today say they have strong collaboration with customers. Eighty-eight percent expect to have stronger collaboration with customers over the next three to five years.

To improve their collaboration with you, retailers need to combine data across their sales channels to build an accurate picture of your preferences and how you want to interact -- whether it's on a phone, in the store or over social media. This is known as omnichannel retail. To do it right, retailers must gather together all the data from their interactions with you and analyze the information for insights in to what makes you tick. Wouldn't it be great if a salesperson in the store could see the last few purchases or even searches you made online and recommend some items to you based on that?

Of course, we've been hearing that such innovations are on the way for a while. Some retailers are getting close by arming their sales associates with mobile devices and sending you somewhat personalized offers over email. But for most retailers, it's still a work in progress. Wonder what the hold up is? The problem many retailers still have is knitting information from various sales channels together. With different channels running in their own silos, it's hard to share information across the business to form a consolidated view of a customer.

I predict that retailers will start closing this gap now that many of them are using cloud computing or the ability to access remotely stored applications and data. Simply put, cloud is one of the ways retailers can bring various sales channels together as a single, secure platform.

It's no wonder that retailers are embracing new technology models to better meet the needs of their customers. They're obsessed with you! Twelve percent of C-suite leaders from the retail industry list customer experience management at the top of the five areas they are personally involved in, compared to just 5 percent of the sample.

So while you've already been in a position of influence and power, you can expect to have an even greater impact on everything from how your favorite company operates to how they engage their customers. It's good to be in charge, isn't it?

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