For companies to survive and flourish in the Age of the Customer, IT Departments must shift their focus from Information Technology to Business Technology to help the business win, serve and retain their customers.

Customer experience is a concept that has been around for quite some time. But never before has it been as crucial to a company's success as it is today. According to IT industry analysts, Forrester Research, 92% of companies surveyed in the US say Customer Experience is a top strategic priority.

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The New Competitive Advantage

In the Age of the Customer a manufacturing, distribution or information edge no longer means that you have a competitive advantage. Technology and globalisation have largely levelled out barriers to entry across most markets and a new way of thinking is required. The new competitive advantage for companies has become their ability to create a Customer Experience that is superior to their competitors’. 

Companies in essence need to become obsessed with their customers. Their main goals should be to understand their customers, their behaviour and needs, and to engage with them on their terms: when, where and how customers want to engage with your business. 

Empowered Customers

Customers are now calling the shots and bypassing your prescribed channels and processes as they reach for their mobile devices or reach out to you via social media channels.

The reality is that customers have become more empowered. Continuous advancement in technology has given them access to a wealth of online information which in turn allows them to do their own company and product research.

Social media, mobile web access, opinion blogs and consumer reviews all offer more information about a company's products and services than has ever been available before. This means that customers no longer rely on suppliers to provide them with information, instead they are taking charge, becoming more demanding about service levels and being far more selective about who they choose to do business with.

IT Departments: Time to Move from IT to BT

To keep up with customer demands and expectations, IT departments need to put on a marketing hat. Their focus should go beyond internal IT operations and include technology solutions that will help attract, serve and retain customers – technology solutions otherwise known as Business Technology.

In the past, the IT Manager focused on building and maintaining systems that helped the business run more efficiently (think ERP, HR and financial systems). Today, that focus must shift to building and maintaining systems, technology and processes designed to win, serve and retain customers.  

With Business Technology social media platforms, mobile interfaces and customer analytics will become more important as companies are driven to identify new, innovative ways to interact with their customers. Mobility, accuracy and convenience will all play major roles as consumers are expecting to access information and services on the go.

Customer-focused technologies must ensure a positive and consistent experience at every point of interaction - whether through a call centre, website, or social channel - while also using these interactions to gather key insights into how your customers think and act.

Reinvent and Flourish

If you fail to align your technology offering to your customer needs, your customers will take their business elsewhere. For the customer, the focus will become the level of service they are getting rather than the actual product they are purchasing and a customer might for example be willing to pay a premium price for a product that has many cheaper counterparts, but only if they are getting exceptional service.

In the end it comes down to this: If you want to retain and build your market share while also improving your customer satisfaction levels, you need to invest in quality customer technology solutions. If your customer experience meets your customer expectations, you will be rewarded not only with brand loyalty, but also positive word-of-mouth that thanks to the world of social media and mobile technologies will likely travel faster than any advertising campaign your company might still have planned.