Getting large companies to think in a more customer-friendly manner with their web sites isn’t an easy task. Yet that’s what Gerry McGovern has been able to do with clients like Microsoft, Cisco, VMware,, the European Commission and OECD through his work as CEO of Meath, Ireland-based Customer Carewords.

The company helps large organizations become more customer-centric on the web. It has developed a set of tools and methods to help large organizations identify and optimize their customers’ top online tasks. "Speed, simplicity and usefulness are the defining characteristics of great web brands," he said.

McGovern has written five books on how the web has facilitated the rise of customer power. The fifth, The Stranger’s Long Neck, published in 2010, discusses how to understand and empathize with your customers, and to deliver what they want.

Customers, McGovern notes, are intelligent strangers. "When they come to your website they have a small set (long neck) of top tasks they want to complete quickly and easily."

To reach them — and keep them — companies need to invert their thinking and refocus their lens on the customer.

As he explains, "Traditional marketing looks at the customer and asks: What can you do for me? Web marketing looks at the customer and asks: What can I do for you?"

His message to companies and brands is exceptionally simple and yet extremely complex: The customer is not captive anymore, and "if you don’t put customers first they reach for their smartphones. They just don’t pay attention. When you put silly ads in their way as they try to get to a page, they just scan for the big X so they can skip past the annoyance."

McGovern will explain his insights on customer-centricity at CMSWire's DX Summit this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

CMSWire talked to him recently to learn more about digital customer experience, the challenge of multiple touchpoints and his expectations for the DX Summit.

Putting Customers First

Walter: What’s the key message you want to deliver at our DX Summit?

McGovern: When it comes to digital transformation, the organizations that focus on the technology will fail. The organizations that focus on the customer will succeed. Digital has unleashed a transformation in society, from hierarchical, slow moving and secretive organizations that were in total control of the message, to a world where customers are organized, empowered, fast-moving and in control of the message. Digital transformation is thus the shift from organization-centric to customer-centric culture.

Walter: What has been the biggest change in the web solutions space since you've been analyzing it?

McGovern: The rise of customer power. The most enabling technologies (iPhone, Facebook, Google, Amazon) have been customer-focused. The rise of digital is the rise of the customer. The web is a network of customers and citizens more than it is a network of organizations. The tools of organization — once exclusively the domain of traditional organizations — have been democratized.

Learning Opportunities

Walter: Why is there so much talk of digital transformation?

McGovern: Digital has reached a tipping point. Even if you don’t do much business on the public web, digital is forcing a transformation of your back-end and internal systems. Young people have grown up with digital. They don’t want to do business with organizations that aren’t online and easy to do business with. They don’t want to work for organizations with antiquated, usability monstrosity systems and work practices.

Walter: Why is it so important to continuously improve the performance of customers' top tasks?

McGovern: Digital is fluid, ever changing, ever moving. The top tasks may remain the same but there will always be a new technology or development that will allow you to design a simpler, more effective way to allow these tasks to be completed. People’s expectations keep changing too, based on their experience of the more usable brands out there. What they found acceptable three years ago is no longer acceptable.

Walter: How can companies reduce their software stack to avoid being overwhelmed by data?

McGovern: Companies should spend less time focusing on the software and the data, and more time focusing on their customers. Often, we don’t need more software but we always need a deeper understanding of our customers. Big data on its own just tells you what is happening. I find there is a huge and growing lack of understanding within organizations of why their customers do the things they do. Empathy for and understanding of customers are the scarcest resource within most organizations today.

Walter: Finally, what do you do to recharge?

McGovern: I play music and read books.