By now, if you have been in the business for any appreciable length of time, you have heard the message repeatedly: stay close to the customer.

By “customers” in this context, let’s talking about the policyholders at the end of the food chain, versus internal customers within the enterprise, such as your HR department. Sure, it’s vital to understand the needs and aspirations of policyholders, but if you are running an IT shop within an insurance company, your time is more likely to be consumed with planning meetings with other managers, meetings with current and prospective vendors to discuss the latest solutions and pricing, and worrying about uptime and security. The ability for a busy IT manager to get out and directly talk to customers is a luxury that few can afford.

To that end, Kyle McNabb, Josh Bernoff, both Forrester analysts, provide some practical and thought-worthy guidelines on what it takes for both IT and marketing leaders to better serve their customers.

For starters, McNabb and Bernoff point out that successful managers don’t just wake up one day and decide they’re going to engage more closely with customers. Success comes from building and leading a “customer-obsessed” corporate culture. The authors admit that achieving such a corporate culture is easy to talk about but hard to do. Importantly, these companies are willing in invest in technology that enhances the customer experience. It should be noted that IT investments need to follow a customer-obsessed corporate culture, but IT itself will not single-handedly remake corporate culture.

McNabb and Bernoff’s rules for CIOs and CMOs to actively shape and live a customer-obsessed culture include the following:

Measure: Successful companies approach the challenge in an organized, well-planned way, and have mechanisms to adopt and learn from each experience.  Companies also need a “full view” of their ecosystems to be able to address any defects in their customer engagements. Companies need to be brutally honest with themselves as well, McNabb and Bernoff state. “You must map painful customer journeys, including the parts of the ecosystem you don't control. Then, create improvements in collaboration with all the stakeholders you identify, including customers.”

Accelerate to digital: “How can you keep up with empowered customers? Be more digital,” McNabb and Bernoff state.  To get there, they advise that IT leaders re-envision their businesses “not as a standalone entity but as part of an ecosystem of suppliers that customers assemble according to their needs and an ecosystem of collaborating businesses that share data and services. And infuse all your processes with digital efficiency so you can react more quickly to customer demands.”

Embrace mobile: “The most urgent place to apply digital thinking is through mobile devices,” according to McNabb and Bernoff. “One billion smartphones have trained people, your customers, to turn to mobile first. Both consumers and business buyers have experienced a mobile mind shift: They expect that they can get what they want in their immediate context and moments of need.”

Leverage big data: “What's so big about big data?” McNabb and Bernoff ask. “It's the opportunities you uncover when you put increasingly novel sources and types of data to use. Large, diverse, and messy forms of data can create new sources of customer value and increase operational agility in service of your customers.”

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