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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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For example, marketing goals must change. In years gone by, those goals centered on targeting, segmentation, media schedules, messages, transactions and CPMs. Today, the goals are based on interaction, engagement, customer recognition, customer moments, value exchanges, minutes of engagement and making information useful in a particular context.

"Customer experience really encompasses the entire customer lifecycle," she said. "It's about how customers discover, evaluate, buy, access content and experiences and use your products and services. How do they get support and, crucially, how do they re-engage with you."

Agile IT

To make this change in an agile manner requires a new partnership between technology managers and marketers.  For example, IT may need to move faster on security to help deliver a solution more quickly, she said. "It's not like we're going to take risk left and right, but we have to have a higher tolerance for risk," she said.

No one technology is going to solve the problem. Yakkundi said Forrester's clients typically choose solutions from different vendors that work well together. "You're not going to buy this all from one vendor, but you're also not going to go with a best-of-breed approach. Think how much integration would be needed with a best-of-breed approach," she said.

For companies just getting started, she suggested immediately identifying some "low-hanging fruit" in the form of a customer touch point that requires a more personal touch. Then think about technologies already in place that can help with this problem. Then marketers should assess the gaps in their customer experiences and, finally, become agents for change within their organizations, making some small quick gains that drive the cultural shift across the company.

Agile Approach

Paredes led such a change over the past year for Zoetis, which sells about $4 billion worth of animal healthcare products globally with a staff of 10,000 employees. He said the company took an agile "lift and shift" approach, making just a few changes during its relaunch, but prioritizing its abilities and capabilities to do more.

"The goal, and what we started to appreciate going through this process, was that we would prioritize things, knowing that moving to a SaaS-based solution, we'd have the ability to roll-out things much quicker than with a big, packaged solution," he said. "We're in a much better position than we were in last year, for sure."

For example, Paredes said it now takes two weeks to launch a new site rather than two months. Launch expenses have fallen 90 percent and site outages have been " eliminated." Updates are now monthly instead of quarterly. "It's been a good year," he said.

Enabling Customers

Plaat reiterated Yakkundi's points.  "Customers today have options and they won't stick around for poor digital experiences," he said. "As marketers, we're responsible for enabling a great digital experience across an increasing number of digital touchpoints." 

He noted IT and marketing sometimes can be at odds.  IT has a spend-to-save approach due to shrinking budgets, but marketing has a spend-to-earn mentality, he said. Most CrownPeak clients have chosen to use an agile web experience platform that can give customers what they want without engaging the IT staff each time a change is needed.

"With the proper tools connected, the marketers can leverage across website properties information about the customer that might exist in IT-managed applications, things they may already have from the customer, or third-party data from a data management platform or other sources," Plaat said.

Title image by Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock.com.