There's the industrial age, the information age and now the age of the customer. Recently Forrester released two new reports that focus on how the age of the customer is poised to place harsh and unfamiliar demands on institutions, requiring changes in how they develop, market, sell, and deliver products and services and what we can do to leverage it for success. 

The Customer is in Charge

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the customer is in charge. Considering that we've been discussing and dissecting all aspects of the customer experience and the customer journey for some time now, not to mention that customers regularly use social media to find the best price, report product inconsistencies and gush or rant about their favorite brands, the age of the customer is here and companies must figure out how they plan to deal with it. 

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The two reports, "Technology Management In The Age Of The Customer" and "Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer" are primarily focused on how information technology can best leverage the new customer reality to not only keep systems up-to-date, but also to remain agile in the face of ever-evolving technologies and customer expectations. For the most part, brands have finally figured out - in some way, shape, or form -- how to leverage social media within the customer experience. But it looks like the technology brands build upon may not be keeping up. 

Can Your IT Keep Up?

Is technology management part of your company's master plan or is it being pushed aside by top leadership? If you were slow to adapt and adopt best practices about web content management, social media and mobile experience management, don't make the same mistake again. When it comes to managing your company's technology, it isn't just customers who will be watching. According to the report, 32% of marketers believe that technology management actually hinders business success. 

Like consumer-facing technologies before it, if your CIO or IT department isn't investing in upgrading or implementing new systems, marketers aren't going to wait. In fact, 14% of non-technology departments are already spending their own budgets on technology. If you don't act fast, the challenges of staying in control are going to be even bigger. 

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If this is all makes you nervous and anxious, you're not alone and you're not without options. Fortunately, the report also outlines ways that companies can start building a technology management agenda. Here are a few steps to get you moving in the right direction?

Learning Opportunities

  • Expand technology management agendas beyond infrastructure management and internal operations (IT) to include work centered on acquiring and retaining customers
  • Don't fail to take the initiative to embrace and manage business technology or else risk losing control to others which can result in confusion, turf wars, and amateur attempts at constructing complex systems

Similar to the ways that companies were forced to adapt to empowered employees and the consumerization of IT, companies are strongly encouraged to adopt new ways of working, collaborating, and measuring success when it comes to implementing and managing technology. 

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

According to Forrester analysts, the best way to keep up with the age of the customer is to get customer-obsessed. That means walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Sure, you say you're company is "customer-focued" but what does that look like? To Forrester, 

A customer-obsessed enterprise focuses its strategy, its energy, and its budget on processes that enhance knowledge of and engagement with customers and prioritizes these over maintaining traditional competitive barriers.

Again that means becoming customer-obsessed inside and out, and incorporating the following traits into your organizational culture: 

  • Emphasize agility, speed over strength: Crafting the right response or taking the time to understand an issue from all sides is important, but customers want answers when they want. 
  • Create loyalty, not barriers: It's not that you need to cater to every whim and desire of your customers, but if there's an easier way to do something, figure out how to do it or customers will go where it's easier. 
  • You're audience is global: This means you need to actively serve customers from everywhere not just your home turf. Can you handle payments in other currencies? Are you able to respond to inquiries across timezones?

In addition, customer-obsessed companies will find that they'll need to invest more in real-time data sharing, as well as shift spending towards more contextualized customer experiences, while making content creation a priority. 

Ultimately, the age of customer is already upon us and as customers get more savvy and technology evolves to enable them, companies need to be agile enough to adapt and adopt new ways of working. It's not just about social media or optimized mobile experiences, it's about making sure that all facets of an organization are actively involved in meeting and exceeding the needs of customers.