When it comes to customer experiences, it’s become clear that businesses really do understand just how fully things have changed.
Today it’s all about the customer. According to recent research from Oracle, 49% of B2C e-commerce professionals stated customer retention is their most important measure of success in 2014. In saying this, they realise that the old methods of reaching – and keeping – the customer are no longer good enough.
The customer wants to experience brands on their own terms. They know they need to build real relationships with customers, connecting with them on an emotional level, and that loyalty has never been harder to win or keep.
Despite widespread awareness of this, it is the start-up community that has found it easiest to adapt to the needs of the modern consumer.
Often, established companies have struggled with the scale of change required and have instead opted for a half-way house; setting up the odd Facebook page for example, or encouraging sales reps to use LinkedIn and Twitter.
While there are of course notable exceptions, the fact is that few businesses are failing to make the wholesale transformation required to prosper in today’s consumer-driven market.
It’s about legacy, baby
The reason is simple: legacy. The more established the company the more legacy challenges it has to deal with.
Whereas a start-up has a blank page on which to write a whole new approach to managing the customer journey, older businesses are stuck with legacy leadership, legacy technologies, legacy practices and legacy ways of thinking.
In the race to win the hearts of customers, many established businesses run with a heavy burden.
To lighten the load, what is required is nothing less than a fundamental change in how businesses think and work.
The rule book needs to be torn up and organisations need to look afresh at what the customer journey looks like today – how customers engage with brands and how they fulfil their needs in a meaningful way.
Based on what they find they then need to rebuild their entire organisation around the new customer-centric reality. In practice this will require something very special.
Enter the ‘intrapreneur’
This ‘something special’ will in many cases come in the from customer experience practitioners that can revolutionise their businesses through an ‘intrapreneurial’ spirit.
The intrapreneur is someone who works within an established business but with an entrepreneurial flair . Intrapreneurs are disruptors and mavericks; first adopters and trailblazers.
They take on the critical task of forcing through the internal innovation that is so desperately needed by legacy-burdened companies.
Intrapreneurs must fly in the face of scepticism and dogma from within the businesses they are trying to help and all too often have to fight for vital changes. In this respect their job is harder than that of the entrepreneur, but arguably the rewards are greater.
Who could not be proud of overhauling a major international organisation and dragging it kicking and screaming into the 21st century?
The fact is that expectations around customer experience are being set by these disruptors. They are the ones willing and able to help their companies adapt to shifting customer habits and ultimately it will be these companies that meet with success in the long term.
Established businesses must follow the path set by intrapreneurs, fully embrace disruption, and focus on executing the wholesale changes required to cater for the modern customer.
But what, exactly, does this change look like?
Transforming customer experiences
The main challenge lies in making the internal organisation reflect how the brand is actually perceived. Businesses have historically been structured in various functions or silos – the marketing department; finance; sales and so on.
This is not how we as consumers view the brand.
When we interact with a company we are not conscious of whether we are talking to a company’s sales team or its finance department – we are aware only of talking to the brand. Furthermore, buying, using and maintaining a product or service are all about the same thing to a consumer – meeting their specific emotional and functional needs.
What intrapreneurs realise is that for modern businesses to really meet these needs they must break down the silos that have emerged over the years.
In their place businesses must create a seamless organisation that works as one to fulfil the needs of modern customers. They must stop thinking in terms of ‘sales interactions’ or ‘customer care interactions’, for example, and start considering things in simpler, unified terms: how they can best meet the customer’s expectations at any given time.
These business silos – technological, operational and cultural – can only be broken down from the inside.
This requires decisive leadership as well as a detailed mapping of the customer journey. The later involves stepping firmly into the shoes of the customer to understand exactly where they are engaging with the brand and then ensuring that the customer experience is, in every case, simple, elegant and effective. It is the tool of the intrapreneur and a necessary first step towards revolutionising the customer experience.
The customer-focus revolution
What does this look like in practice? One excellent example I can give is from an electronic games company that was keen to ensure its customer experience was as simple and engaging as the games it developed.
It came up with a highly effective goal for its customer experience, one that was breath-taking in its simplicity. It wanted customers to feel that every time they were in contact with the brand they were living the gaming experience they loved so much.
To achieve this aim, the company got its games developers to work with the customer service team to architect the way customers go through the process of getting support and assistance.
The teams worked together to embed support into the gaming experience. The result was a compelling proposition that allowed the customer to enjoy the same emotional benefits they derive from the games, when dealing with the brand.
Put plainly, in the near future those businesses that still operate in siloes will fail. They will be supplanted by organisations that are tightly-woven, with processes and methodologies specifically designed to get the organisation working as one to deliver the very best customer experiences.
The key for organisations now is to ensure they have the right intrapreneurial talent in place to help instigate and drive this disruptive transformation before legacy-free competitors win the race for market share.
The onus among us
For customer experience professionals, the onus is on them to take the challenge by the horns and see what they can do to change how their businesses understand and engage with the customer. They must transform themselves into intrapreneurs before they can transform the company.
Yong Sheng Lee, also known as YS Lee is Asia Pacific Sales Director for Service Cloud at Oracle Corporation. YS is responsible for driving the growth of Oracle SaaS Customer Service offerings in the region.