Josh Bernoff, one of Forrester’s leading analysts, spotlights in a new report that we have now entered the age of the customer.  Empowered customers are disrupting every industry; competitive barriers like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery can’t save you. In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers. The successful companies will be customer-obsessed, like Best Buy, IBM, and Executives in customer-obsessed companies must pull budget dollars from areas that traditionally created dominance — brand advertising, distribution lockup, mergers for scale, and supplier relationships — and invest in four priority areas: 1) real-time customer intelligence; 2) customer experience and customer service; 3) sales channels that deliver customer intelligence; and 4) useful content and interactive marketing. Those that master the customer data flow and improve frontline customer staff will have the edge.

On June 15, 2011, a group of Forrester analysts convened for a roundtable discussion (Customer Empowerment Jam) to explore the topic of empowering customers through business process transformation. This was a cross-disciplinary group that included Connie Moore, Craig Le Clair, Paul Hagen, Rob Karel, Derek Miers, Kate Leggett, Mike Gilpin, and I.  We had a lively discussion about the strategies and tactics for how companies can survive and thrive in the age of the customer. We summarized our conclusions in a new report. In the age of the customer, successful enterprises will:

  • Champion, foster, encourage, and grow a customer-centric culture. Start by engaging the business, the executives, and the employees. Employees know what your customers really need, and you must empower them in order to empower your customers. That means getting the executive team lined up around customer centricity and outside-in thinking, because if you don't do that, you'll go nowhere.
  • Avoid a “big bang” approach unless it is completely driven from the top. Instead, encourage smaller projects with high impact. Innovation often spreads via small, observable innovations that get copied and appreciated. To build on this, pick that small, innovative project, get your team to support it, and then watch it grow.
  • Immerse themselves in the voice of the customer. Really understand, get involved with, and find the data about customers as it exists in the organization so that you understand the process and how it affects the customer experience.
  • Transform their traditional communication channels and incorporate social channels. Transform your processes over those traditional channels and implement social channels as mainstream. Implement social in a way that's convenient, consistent, and coherent for your customers, but which aligns with and reinforces your brand value.
  • Not forget data when transforming processes from the outside in. Trustworthy data is critical to enabling customer empowerment processes and interactions. But data strategy doesn't drive your business process strategy or process transformations. Instead, your customer enablement priorities must drive your data strategy.
  • Focus on what their customers think is important. Every time people talk about “business process” improvements, substitute “customer process” and think about whether the focus is too narrowly on internal silos rather than on customer moments of truth. Guide your work from that perspective and align the business process to what customers are trying to accomplish, balancing that of course with internal needs.

On September 22-23, we are hosting a Business Process Forum in Boston, with the theme of “The World Of Customer Engagement.” For two days, we’ll hear from business process executives who are not only improving their processes, and not only transforming their processes, but are also putting the customer at the heart of it — transforming processes from the outside in and building customer engagement to support the new world of Customer Empowerment. I invite you to be there, and also to follow Forrester’s Blog for Business Process Professionals in the weeks leading up to the event to hear from Forrester thought leaders and some of the speakers from the event.