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What keeps forward-thinking executives up at night? It’s the same thing that has been keeping executives up for years: customer acquisition and retention. How do I grow my business and keep my customers while remaining profitable and ahead of the competition?

That focus is clear in the results of IBM’s recently released Customer-activated Enterprise, a 2013 C-Suite study featuring some promising insights from over 4,000 executives on key opportunities and challenges for their organizations. For example, 64% of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) want to approach customers as individuals and 71% of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) see communication moving towards social or digital collaboration. More good news: 77% of Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) support the development of new products and services. Along with other insights in the report, these findings demonstrate how quickly the business landscape is evolving towards a customer-centric model.

3 Business Trends from IBM's Customer- Activated Enterprise Report
Image courtesy of IBM 

Whether you’re currently part of a C-suite in an enterprise or aspiring to be one, here are three trends from the report that will have an impact on how you do business today and in the future:

  1. Sharing control with customers

Gaining competitive edge has never been more important for organizations. Simply offering the lowest fees and a promised return on investment are no longer sufficient to retain customers and attract new business. The IBM report shows that to navigate this new era, leading brands are turning to their most valuable asset: their existing customers.

In fact, CEOs cite customers as the second most influential group when it comes to shaping the company’s strategy, just behind the C-suite. Customer influence is not only a CEO thing: 54% of C-suite leaders say customers have a major influence on their enterprise. IBM also found that more executives from outperforming enterprises intensively collaborate with customers (60% versus 39% of underperformers).

Clearly, being customer-driven makes good business sense. IBM’s report suggests that more enterprises are realizing that their customers hold the key to innovative new products, more refined communications, and better decisions on investments in new markets. Your existing customers can tell you why they became a customer in the first place. They are not shy in sharing what is working for them and what is not. Enterprises who enable customers to influence them have a better shot at getting it right in the future.

  1. CxOs working more closely together

In my work, I get to engage with senior executives of some of the world’s best brands and discuss their challenges, strategies, and ambitions and discuss synergies between our organizations. When I talk to these business leaders, one thing that holds true across all verticals and markets is their need to effectively infuse the voice of the customer into their organization.

Leading organizations harness the voice of the customer in many ways, but there is a chink in the chain. CMOs have their discipline, and so do CIOs and other members of the C-suite. Then we have voice of customer managers, customer experience directors, retention managers, sales directors, social and digital directors, communications managers and account managers. All of these professionals try to engage customers in some way, but most often, they do not collaborate together that well.

Much has already been said about the need to build stronger relationships among members of the C-suite. The IBM study reiterates this need: while 72% of C-suite members from underperforming enterprises claim that their C-suite members collaborate well, 92% of CxOs from outperforming brands make the same claim.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The IBM report puts it well: “The members of the C-suite must also pull together. That’s not easy. Nevertheless, it can produce major financial benefits.” To drive customer retention and acquisition, your enterprise needs an integrated effort from all members of the C-suite and the professionals that report to them.

  1. Using digital channels to craft engaging customer experience

Recognizing changes in customers’ expectations, CxOs are rebalancing their priorities for the next three to five years—and business leaders are prioritizing customer engagement. Customer experience management and e-commerce get increasing focus, while IT systems and operations and security get decreasing focus. Moreover, 52% of CxOs plan to use digital technology immediately to interact more with customers, while 88% plan to do so in next 3 to 5 years.

But how exactly can enterprises engage with their customers in an organized and structured fashion? When it comes to engaging customers, brands today have more options than ever. Making sense of customer feedback from social media, your call centers, and other avenues require a strategic approach that will allow you to build long-term relationships, get the necessary context to be confident with your data, and collaborate with your customers on future decisions.

To achieve these business goals, enterprises need a place where their customers can come together as a community. While many enterprises already engage customers in some way, it is the community aspect that is missing. Customers want to share and feel that they are a part of something special.

Community is not just a fuzzy buzzword. The most dynamic brands of tomorrow already demonstrate how in an online community of customers, you can have a handful of questions from an afternoon meeting and have insights to feed the actionable business change overnight. These businesses work with their customers to co-create new products and refine their current offerings. Customers work with them in ideation workshops to come up with the next big thing (or next little thing that makes a big difference). With the help of their customers, they review upcoming advertisements and communications to make sure the message is received as intended. People in the community validate the C-suite’s hypothesis and tell them what is happening in their world—outside of their behavioral transactions with you.

3 Business Trends from IBM's Customer- Activated Enterprise Report 2
Image courtesy of IBM

The IBM study shows that today’s C-suite already recognizes the need to put the customer into the heart of their enterprise. It also demonstrates how customer influence will continue to shape enterprise strategy in the future. Tomorrow’s CEOs will require an effective, organized way of opening a two-way dialogue—a process where customers and the executive office collaborate to co-create the brand’s future. Now that’s valuable.

Know Your Customers in Today's Experience Economy

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