Over the next 12 months, companies will be in a pitched battle to drive revenue and improve the customer experience. A Forrester survey of business leaders flagged these two initiatives as the most important by far. In other words, competition is about to heat up.
Technology can be the difference maker. Unfortunately, many survey respondents don't think CIOs can help them. Half of marketing pros do not firmly believe IT accelerates their department's success. It gets worse as you go down the line. Three out of four sales executives and four out of five customer service leaders are not in IT's corner, either. (See chart below.)
CIOs better start changing this negative mindset. Forrester advises CIOs to tap into all the talk about winning, serving and retaining customers by keeping the customer -- specifically, the customer lifecycle -- at the center of conversations and decisions when crafting a business technology agenda. In fact, CIOs should be obsessed with the customer and familiar with all sorts of emerging customer-focused technology.
CIOs Must Understand 6 Phases of the Customer Lifecycle
Generally speaking, a customer lifecycle has six phases, says Forrester, and CIOs must understand how technology impacts every phase.
In the first and second phases, the customer discovers your brand, product or service and does some initial research. Marketers will need technology that enables potential customers to interact with the brand on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, then follow this up with tools for customers to easily read reviews, compare prices, visit your online store (as well as competitor sites), and other early courtship activities.
In the third phase, the customer decides to buy your product or service. CIOs and salespeople must get this right by delivering a satisfying checkout experience. The technology that delivers the information the customer needs to make that decision, as well as back-end inventory checks, will be critical.
A slip-up in the buying phase can lose a customer for life, the Forrester report says. More than 80 percent of U.S. online consumers say they'll likely avoid websites that have dissatisfied them in the buying process, and 73 percent say they'll avoid that company's brick-and-mortar store, too.
The fourth phase is when the customer begins to use the product or service. It's at this time when they're forming their critical impressions. Technologies can capture customer usage data from social sites and embedded sensors. In turn, this data can back into research and development to refine future products and services, the Forrester report says.
Think of the fifth phase as providing stellar customer service through technology. Customers will reach out in various ways to get help and assistance post-purchase, according to the Forrester report. Technology needs to be in place to provide good, consistent support across multiple channels.
Lastly, the sixth phase is all about supporting an ongoing relationship with the customer. Technology that plays here includes voice-of-the-customer programs and customer experience measurement, says the Forrester report.
CIOs Need to Tie Tech Together
Throughout multiple phases in the customer lifecycle, technologies run the gamut, from social to mobile to analytics to the Internet of things. More importantly, a swath of technologies touch all sorts of departments, from marketing to sales and fulfillment to customer service to product innovation.
CIOs who can deliver technology that supports every phase, every function in the customer lifecycle and tie it all together into a cohesive system with the customer at the core can change IT's poor reputation and remain relevant in the age of the customer and the race for revenue.
Or CIOs can stand idly by at their own risk.
"It's tempting," the Forrester report warns, "to reduce this collection of technologies to discrete application categories -- or worse, to write it off as nothing more than the legacy customer relationship management system you adopted a decade ago."