There’s no denying that the motivating imperative driving every boardroom conversation is digital transformation. After all, we know from daily evidence that the promised digital disruption coming to every industry is already here, and it is accelerating faster than ever.
The CEO’s role, along with every leader supporting her mission, is to ensure their organization will not just survive the digital era but rather thrive in it and win. In this digital transformation journey, we are now entering an era where the focus shifts from transforming how we work internally to how we engage externally through creating experiences that center around the customer.
As we seek new ways to automate, accelerate and connect through even faster and smarter technology, we face an unprecedented risk that is far greater than getting “left behind” in the digital era. That risk is losing sight of what, or in this case, who is behind the pane of glass we desperately seek to reach: a human being.
The particular conundrum for CEOs today is leading their organization through a highly necessary digital transformation yet ensuring that meaningful, value-based customer experience is the top priority for every employee. How is this most effectively accomplished?
It’s Simple: Put the Customer at the Center of Everything You Do
On an annual basis, I put together a list of the top technology predictions and trends to watch for in the coming year. This year, I am approaching it differently. I’ve chosen to only list things that will have a direct and positive impact on customers since they are the reason any company exists and hopefully succeeds. It does beg the question: What’s the point of digitally transforming business if we aren’t bringing customers along? Yes, technology is important. I won’t argue that. To succeed, however, we need to create and nurture lasting relationships with our customers.
So, for now, let’s put the digital transformation aside, and put the customer first. Here are the five customer-oriented trends to master in 2019.
1. Make Every Customer Interaction Exceptional
In today’s world, brands are no longer controlled by companies, but by their customers. It’s crucial that companies nurture unique, positive relationships with their customers. Often, it’s not clear who owns the customer relationships within an organization. The first thing companies need to do is pull down silos — organizational, data, and technology — to get a comprehensive understanding of the customer and deliver a more cohesive, personalized experience because that’s what we all expect.
With the customer at the center, B2B organizations must transform into an experience-driven mindset. We must engage with entire buying teams throughout a long and complex journey. This buying journey requires us to implement more powerful and deeply integrated sales and marketing solutions, not more of the same point solutions we see from the same vendors repackaging the same thing promising different outcomes. This old approach leaves us attempting to connect with a customer in a way that violates her values, which may make her consider your organization irrelevant.
2. Engage through Digital Experiences
It’s important to deliver solutions that empower customers to unleash their creativity and inventiveness, enabling experiences that translate into lifetime loyalty and love. In the app economy, the great expansion of ubiquitous connectivity, availability of intelligent devices of every kind, and limitless computing power for all has created a heightened level of expectation for every buyer, everywhere.
That heightened expectation is that every experience, regardless of the brand or company with which they interact, is engaging, instant, and personal. For example, the fine line between yesterday’s garage sale and eBay is a compelling digital experience. The same goes for the difference between an ordinary taxi service and Uber. It is a ubiquitous digital experience. And I believe this is only the beginning. We’ll continue to see digital experiences be introduced and dominate in new and creative ways. It’s our job to empower them.
3. Double-Down to Address Our Customer’s Needs, Wants, and Values
At no other time in history have organizations had more reach than we do today. Through billions of glass surfaces across new mediums, ranging from social to mobile and email to chat, there is no shortage of ways to engage. In fact, there is no better time to be a marketer than now. But why is it so difficult to understand our customer’s needs, wants, and values?
The unfortunate side effect of this ubiquitous reach is we often tailor our messages for the device – a phone, a watch, whatever it may be – as the “endpoint” we are reaching. Too often, in both B2B and B2C, we fail to realize the endpoint is a person with needs, wants, and values.
This is a great challenge and opportunity. My hope is that companies will start to leverage the powerful digital forces and reach at our disposal today and do so in a meaningful manner that creates a wanted and valuable experience for every interaction with every customer and buyer. In the end, companies who understand their customers’ needs, wants, and values will win.
4. Focus on Customer Engagement vs. Customer Management
I believe the real opportunity begins and ends with how customers, prospects, employees, and partners experience your business. We no longer need a system solely for marketing or sales that projects a predisposed belief about how a customer should feel about the company. Instead, we need a revenue operating system that orchestrates the customer experience, focusing on engagement from the beginning to the end of the buyer’s journey. This model is how a company can stand out from the crowd and curate every moment into a powerful, loyalty-building engagement.
Crafting messages based on an individual’s digital footprints versus what someone has entered into your database is the foundational concept behind creating an exceptional customer experience.
5. Deliver Personalized Experiences — Every Single Time
Marketers must leverage AI to create personalized and meaningful experiences for customers. We’ll continue to see an acceleration of adaptive and intuitive applications and technologies that will enable the marketer to create truly meaningful experiences. AI will empower marketing because it will further allow marketers to scale to deliver powerful, deeply personal stories — and this skill will become more, not less, valued in an AI-driven world. It’s this powerful combination of the marketer and the machine that will enable marketers and brands to build life-long customer relationships.
Ultimately, the driving factor is getting back to being laser-focused on the customer, especially, if your business is in the midst of digital transformation. With the tools and approaches I’ve outlined above, 2019 will be the best year yet!