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The hardest part of shifting to a customer-centric corporate culture may be getting your employees to embrace it. But your strategies and technologies are useless unless they do, according to a Forrester Research analyst.

"It's not just delivering a customer experience. It's making and centering our business around a customer-first attitude and a customer-centric attitude," Anjali Yakkundi, who focuses on digital experience delivery and related topics for Forrester, said Wednesday during a CMSWire webinar.

The webinar, entitled "Agile Marketing: Creating a New Generation of Enterprise Digital Experiences," also included a case study of Zoetis by Nilo Paredes, global product and technology leader for Zoetis, and a review of customer requirements by Steven Plaat, marketing director for CrownPeak, which also sponsored the session.

That '70s Approach

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Yakkundi noted that our perception of the customer has changed markedly from the 1970s in retail, banking and other B2C sectors as well as in B2B firms. She said:

The way we looked at customers and the way we engaged with customers [in the 1970s] was really a one-way street. We were pushing information to them in a static way. Today, companies must engage with customers on all channels in different locations at all times. This is our new wave of customers.This isn't static. This isn't one or two channels. This is digital, it's engaging, it's interactive."

This approach to customer experience is proving itself on the bottom line and, as a result, in corporate valuations. Companies that are leaders in customer experience management (CXM) showed a 43 percent increase in their valuations during a six-year period -- roughly three times the 14.5 percent gain for the S&P 500 index, according to a study by Forrester and Watermark Consulting.

Laggards in CXM saw almost a 40 percent decrease in their valuations over the same timeframe, Yakkundi noted.

She described customers as "digital omnivores," noting:

They're always connected, they're always addressable. Your customers are accessing digital channels multiple times a day. Those firms that can sustain a customer's attention with more relevant experiences are going to gain a key source of competitive attention. If you don't gain that customer's attention, you won't be able to hold onto that customer. They going to go immediately to your competitor who is able to give them that smarter, more relevant experience."

To succeed, "you're going to lead a cultural transformation in your organization that is customer centric, that's going to have new roles, and maybe new organizational structures and new partner models," she said. "No matter how great a technology solution you get, if you don't have the vision, priorities or people in place, that technology can't do anything."

4 Pillars

It takes four essential elements to get started: vision, priorities, people and technology. Of these, Yakkundi said, people are the hardest. "Let's face it, people and cultural issues are not quite as straightforward [as the other elements]," she said. "This is true grassroots and top-down [direction is] needed to deliver this new organization and new structure."

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