Leadership Strategies

CIOs and Technology in the Future of Customers and Consumers

By investing in technologies, processes, data/analytics and talent to create good customer experiences, CIOs can create customer loyalty and empathy at scale.
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Merely satisfying a customer with a solid product or a good deal isn’t enough anymore. It requires a differentiated empathetic experience for every customer. And providing an empathetic experience requires the whole organization, and specifically the CIO, as almost every customer touch is through the lens of technology.  The CIO owns the technology, data and talent needed to build a foundation for empathy at scale as providing customers with engaging and differentiated empathetic experiences is the new marker for success.

Customer loyalty is earned through memorable, positive, and empathic experiences. In the future of customers and consumers, the use of technology in improving experiences and building brand trust is essential. This digital shift provides CIOs with an opportunity to push their organizations ‘over the top’ as competition for customers intensifies. Being able to satisfy customers by focusing on their experiences is rooted in technology and data-enabled empathic relationships. IDC predicts that by 2023, enterprises that excel at empathy and safety at scale will outperform those that don’t by 40%.

Superior customer experiences through the collaboration between CIOs, CMOs and LOB executives who foster a goal-driven approach to implementing the right culture, data and intelligence, systems and governance will create the loyalty and customer satisfaction organizations need to succeed in the coming years.

What can a CIO Bring to the Table?

CIOs are one of only two non-CEO roles that can see end-to-end of the organization and must understand how their organizations relate to their customers and what technologies can help bolster the customer/brand relationship. They should focus on:

  • Helping to create seamless omni-channel experiences by creating integrated and unified systems and processes (internally and externally) that deliver consistent, engaging experiences
  • Automating and scaling processes and operations from back office to customer facing apps using data-driven intelligence, interactions using AI and machine learning, virtual assistants and other technology to extend and expand human capabilities to meet needs of larger audiences without increasing headcount
  • Managing technological change by moving from a product-centric business to one that is customer focused

A good starting point for CIOs in supporting the efforts to scale customer empathy is to recast their project- and product-centered organizations and technology portfolios as “customer centric,” using customer-first design and decision making. Every initiative should start with one question: How does this benefit our customers?

To help answer that question, CIOs, in collaboration with CMOs and LOB executives, must define what empathy at scale means for their business. Is it respecting customers’ privacy? Offering customers more control over their interactions with the business? Creating more trust and transparency? Identifying these wants and needs is a solid starting point in the quest for more individualized customer interactions.

CIOs also need to identify what’s going well in their current technology, and what isn’t. A humble conversation about “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of the current state of customer experiences will allow CIOs to objectively paint a picture of “what could be” in the future based on emerging technologies. Lastly, CIOs and LOB executives must agree on frameworks, approaches, and road maps to ensure a systematic buildout of technologies, systems, and business processes that support customer empathy at scale.

As the senior technologists and data stewards for enterprises, CIOs play a pivotal role in helping select, deploy, and orchestrate the complex mix of data and technology that underlies empathy at scale. Data is the fuel of empathy at scale while digital technology is the engine. The CIO’s skill in marshaling the right IT capabilities in support of customer experiences is a major determining factor in the success of those experiences. IDC has identified four key technology dimensions and enablers of the future of customers and consumers:

  • Contextual awareness is using technology and data to sense the context in which a customer is operating and provide appropriate information, services, and experiences.
  • Frictionless engagement employs technology between businesses and customers to give the latter what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. In other words, customers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to have their wants and needs satisfied.
  • Active learning is the digitally enabled capability for businesses to continually amass information and insight that helps them serve customers.
  • Sentiment measurement is the ability to use technology and data to detect how customers feel about businesses and brands and to serve as the digital “canary in the coal mine” when businesses lose favor with customers because of something they did (or didn’t) do.

As businesses engage in digital warfare to win over customers, technology solutions garner much attention with the promise of building loyalty and satisfaction via superior customer experiences. Those technologies, while essential, are only part of the equation and the victors in the customer wars won’t win strictly on technology prowess. Instead, the winners will have invested the time and resources to build a foundation of customer-centric people, culture, governance, IT capabilities, and intelligence that fully leverages the power of digital technologies. They will also have a clear vision and goals for achieving truly empathetic and rewarding relationships with customers and the ability to blend human and machine intelligence to deliver experiences that engage customers and create lasting loyalty.

It’s not just about investing in transformation of technologies, processes, data/analytics and talent to create good customer experiences, you must create a differentiated experience with that knowledge.

If you would like to learn more about the Future of Customers and Consumers or other IDC’s “Future of X” practices, visit our website at https://www.idc.com/FoX

Alan Webber

Program Vice President, Digital Strategy and Customer Experience