“The customer is always right.” The all too familiar phrase ingrained into our understanding of how consumer journeys must begin – and end, was pioneered by successful retailers, such as Harry Selfridge and Marshall Field at the start of the 20th century, while iconic hotelier César Ritz said “Le client n'a jamais tort” back in the 1880s.

Fast forward to a digital 2016 and it’s no longer a single, omnipresent CEO who dictates the customer experience. The chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief information officer (CIO) face the joint challenge of winning the battle for customer loyalty and advocacy by serving evolving needs and expectations. Definitively, according to Gartner, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator by 2017. Gartner also predicts that by 2017, the CMO will spend more corporate resources on IT than the CIO.

Turning new technologies into profits and growth requires a partnership between the CMO and CIO which could now make it the most important collaboration in the C-suite. Achieving this requires a cultural shift within the team, and one which can lead to rising tensions. A joint Ovum and BoldChat study earlier this month revealed that the customer experience has declined over the last two years despite investments in new engagement channels, making the partnership mission-critical to business success.

As in any relationship, it’s important to be able to view the partnership from each other’s perspectives. The CMO should recognise that the traditional role of CIOs has changed. Historically, the CIO was responsible for automating internal processes. Today, the CIO, like any other management member, is expected to contribute to the revenues and to bring innovation. They need to make themselves available to support these needs, which means a shifting focus from productivity, process automation and maintenance of exiting systems, to innovation and new growth engines. Conversely, the CIO should accept the fact that other executives also "understand" technology and look for new technologies which can best serve them.

Growth is the main reason CMOs want to strengthen technology, by re-defining pre and post purchase experiences. To be able to measure interactions with customers at the necessary speed requires a myriad of technology tools: enterprise CMS, frameworks, controls, application platforms, analytics and reporting, to name a few. Technology-driven initiatives from CMOs, therefore, become a vital cog within campaign delivery, just as CIOs, who are also responsible for business outcomes. Leading a business is no longer about focusing on operational systems, it includes analysing and identifying market trends, generating knowledge and insights, forecasting causes and effects of business activities and finding and implementing systems that will proactively advance the company. For example, the CIO can initiate a dedicated system that will identify and issue a warning about dissatisfied customers that might leave in the future, or a system that monitors changes in customer behaviour.

So how can both parties co-lead on technology? It’s simple: by integrating data and business goals. The CIO must shift IT from being a cost centre to being a business-revenue enabler and facilitator. The CIO can bring the technological and architecture side, and solve integration needs to increase business growth. For example, CRM should be well integrated with the other business process systems such as finance and project management, so that it does not operate as a standalone. The integration should be both on the operation level of the daily work - data synchronisation and status update from one system to another - and on the executive and business intelligence level, to have a 360 degree view of the organisation.

The CMO must work with the CIO to ensure that the IT systems are not a barrier to defining and designing customer-centric processes and that the systems are agile enough to absorb quick changes. Only then will the company stand the best chance of keeping ahead of their customer’s changing technological expectations rather than taking retrospective action. In short, the mindset has to be set within the company, and enabling technologies has a major part to play in supporting this shift.

 

By Andres Richter, CEO of Priority Software

 

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