Forrester explains the key ingredients for winning in the ‘age of the customer’

The research firm suggests the need for mobile and digital experiences will expose a shortfall in skills within many firms. How can you prepare?

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Forrester Research Age of the customer 2015

Since 2011 we’ve been talking a lot about the “age of the customer.” But in 2015, winning, serving and retaining customers should be the focus of every organization.

That’s according to Forrester Research in its 2015 Predictions Panel. Big trends to watch out for this year include transforming the customer experience, becoming a digital business, embracing the mobile mind shift and turning big data into business insights.

“Great customer experience drives great customer loyalty,” said Harley Manning, vice-president and research director of customer experience with Forrester.

New competitive environments are changing the game. “Even if you’re in a business where you think your customers are locked in, that can change really fast,” he said. Consider cable TV networks, which are now grappling with a new generation of cable-cutters.

Mobile is going to be a huge part of those new competitive environments.

Indeed, 70 per cent of online traffic to Walmart this holiday season came from mobile devices, said Ted Schadler, vice-president and principal analyst for application development and delivery with Forrester. That’s up from about 40 per cent the previous year.

The critical disruptor: they’re visiting Walmart over a mobile device while they’re actually in a Walmart store. “All of a sudden people in store operations care a lot about technology,” he said.

That’s why Walmart is developing apps to improve the in-store customer experience. “Walmart doesn’t have these skills — they’re a retailer, they’ve had to acquire software development skills,” said Schadler. The retail behemoth even has operations in Silicon Valley.

A lot of retailers are replicating this model, but mobile is even starting to affect B2B companies. “The call centre, the web, the product catalogue — all of those become less important because people want to solve the problem right there in that moment of need,” said Schadler. “Mobile gives you a way to do that. It’s starting to show up in every part of the customer lifecycle and every part of the company workflow.”

But how many of us have dozens of apps on our phone that we never use? There are 200 million active websites and about a billion microsites out there in cyberspace. “That’s a lot of digital presence and all of that has to go mobile,” said Schadler.

But technology is coming to the rescue, where companies will be able to build and deploy apps that will auto-download — so customers don’t know they’re actually downloading an app; they’re just interacting with a brand. Schadler says this is the year we’ll start to see the divide disappear between mobile apps and the web.

What’s holding organizations back, though, is that they’re not holistic; they’re not organized to provide that consistent customer or workplace experience, said Stephen Powers, vice-president and research director of application development and delivery with Forrester.

And there’s a huge skills gap: Only 20 per cent of CEOs and 16 per cent of line-of-business execs think they have the right digital skills to perform these transformations (which includes everything from app development to analytics).

This is where third parties will come in. “If you don’t have a lot of data experience, is it really realistic in this market to build it yourself?” he said. “Maybe you can build some of it, but you’re going to have to look outside to augment that.” Look to disrupted industries for inspiration (or recruits).

Forrester predicts this will be a year of unprecedented customer power through mobile, social and digital channels. The technological and cultural changes required will be difficult, but necessary — because it seems the “age of the customer” has finally arrived.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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