First Steps to a Customer Embrace
A necessary early step on the path to customer alignment is unified customer information that is filtered through linked databases. When individual product and geographic groups have their own information systems, including ordering and fulfilment, the firm is unable to coordinate its offering. The consolidation of information at the point of customer contact also makes it easier to separate the front-end customer solution units (at stage four) from the back-end product infrastructure.
Good performance metrics systems are also critical to success - they breed cooperation across formerly independent units that all had different goals and rewards. For example, Enterprise Rent-A-Car uses an IT system to rank its 5000 branches with two customer survey questions, one about the quality of their rental experience and the other about the likelihood that they would rent from the company again. GE Plastics uses systems that track delivery performance so it can reduce variability in delivery date - its number-one customer satisfaction metric.
Mismatched capabilities, fragmented information systems and inadequate execution can all undermine the realignment process. The good news is that these obstacles are familiar and were overcome by the organizations we studied. (Other issues, such as customer resistance to the new model and internal cultural resistance, proved much more intractable among the studied companies.)
Because it takes longer to reorganize the organization than to plan a change in strategy, there is an unrealistic expectation about how quickly the move to a market-focused organization can be accomplished. Those who are successful are able to factor the inevitable challenges into the overall strategy transition plan and don't try to push it faster than the impediments allow. CIOs can play a critical role in success by clearly outlining the implementation realities in the time line - but must also deftly avoid becoming the scapegoat for delays beyond IT's control.
Compared to this challenge, the implementation will probably seem like the easy part.
George Day is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com
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