Make IT a Brand Enhancer, Not a Brand Destroyer

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In a recent Forrester survey of 287 customer experience decision-makers from large US firms, 91% said that customer experience would be either very important or critical to their 2008 efforts — a significant jump over results in a similar survey last year. They are turning to Experience-Based Differentiation (EBD) strategies to create new formulas for building brands that will attract and retain customers. What is often not recognized is that IT executives can play the role of “brand enhancer” or default to the role of “brand destroyer” in EBD initiatives.

Our research shows that organizations struggle with three challenges:

* Organizational accountability for EBD is lacking. Despite the importance that enterprises place on customer experience strategies, they have difficulty organizing to deliver on their intentions. In one of our surveys, we found that only 32% have an executive (other than the CEO) responsible for the “whole customer experience.”

* IT is critical to delivering EBD. In cases where an organization does have a single point of accountability for the customer experience, it generally rests with marketing, service, or eCommence departments. IT virtually never assumes a lead role. But, when it comes to delivering the right customer experience, 60% of executives we surveyed in another study cite “implementing technology” as the second biggest obstacle to EBD strategies — just behind “gaining organizational alignment” and ahead of “trying to change employee behavior.”

* Business executives want more EBD leadership from IT. We asked the question “how important it is for the IT organization to support the corporate goal of acquiring and retaining customers.” Seventy-nine percent in the tech and telecom sector said it was a “top priority.” Other industries showed nearly as high an interest: retail, 76%; services, 66%; finance and insurance, 62%; distribution, 61%; manufacturing, 55%; chemicals and energy, 51%.

Delivering on an EBD strategy is impossible without leadership from IT executives. They must:

* Build alignment with business units. Organizations that place a high priority on acquiring and retaining customers want an IT governance process that provides more business unit control over IT priorities. IT leaders must devise mechanisms to actively engage their business counterparts to become part of the process of EBD strategy formulation and execution.

* Close business process expertise gaps. EBD strategies are founded on creating unique customer interaction processes that will set the company apart from the competition. IT leaders must ensure their development staff possesses not only sound technical skills, but also deep functional and business process understanding.

* Build communication and influence skills. Being an effective leader and collaborator requires more than deep technology domain expertise. IT staff need training in how to lead through effective communication and influencing strategies, to become valued contributors to EBD initiatives.

* Understand customer management packaged applications. Business executives expect their IT partners to be experts about solutions to support customer-facing improvement initiatives. With the growing importance of packaged applications versus in-house-developed solutions for customer interaction issues, IT execs must keep abreast of the most current solutions on the market.

* Maintain knowledge about most current IT architectures. The shift toward open standards and service-oriented architecture (SOA) offers the promise of creating more flexible business processes to deliver better customer experiences. IT executives need to ensure that their information architecture vision takes into account longer-term technology trends that will influence the available solutions that will emerge in the next few years.

William Band
Bill Band is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He is a leading expert on CRM topics, having helped organizations define customer-driven strategies to achieve distinction in the marketplace for his entire career. Click here to download free related research from Forrester (free site registration required).

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