By: John Foley, Oracle Voice
I have bad news for companies that are struggling to improve their customer engagement—it’s only going to get more difficult. Social-savvy, smartphone-carrying consumers will switch allegiances faster than you can say “customer relationship management.”
Hurd was speaking at Oracle Industry Connect in Boston, where more than 1,500 business and technology executives from the communications, financial services, health sciences, retail, and utilities industries, and those from project-intensive industries such as construction and manufacturing, came together to delve deeply into what’s happening in their sectors.
They also shared ideas and best practices where there’s common ground. “People want to learn, borrow, and understand what other industries are doing to solve similar problems,” said Bob Weiler, Executive Vice President of Oracle’s Global Business Units.
The customer experience is one such area—a challenge, opportunity, business goal, and IT undertaking all rolled into one here-and-now, make-or-break imperative.
“The customer is in the driver’s seat. We need to get in front of what her needs are,” said Karen Katz, CEO and President of Neiman Marcus Group , during the Oracle Industry Connect keynote for retailers.
Companies can best manage such challenges with industry-specific capabilities that are designed for the business they’re in, Hurd said. Neiman Marcus, for example, is deploying Oracle Retail solutions to create a more seamless “omni-channel” experience across its stores, call centers, and website, and to help with demand forecasting and other retail operations.
What more can companies do to regain their footing in this fast-changing environment where customers already have the upper hand and are about to wield even more clout and influence?
Here are 10 trends that jumped out during the keynotes and sessions I attended at Oracle Industry Connect. Companies that recognize and respond to these trends will be in a better position to attract, engage, and retain their most influential—and most finicky!—customers.
- Customers want to co-create their experience with your company. As businesses pursue customer experience, or CX, strategies, they must remember that social-savvy customers, who are more empowered than ever, expect to have a say in the ongoing relationship they have with the company. Mike Webster, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Oracle’s Retail Global Business Unit, shared the results of a survey, titled The New Retail Democracy, which shows that 73 percent of respondents favor the idea of “individual retail.” “Consumers want to participate in decisions that affect them,” said Webster.
- Consumers are out-pacing businesses in tech innovation. Consumers and businesses each spend about $1 trillion annually in technology, yet most of those consumer dollars go toward new capabilities, whereas only 18 percent of business IT spending does. Thus, businesses have fallen behind on the new technologies curve. Companies must find ways to modernize by shifting more of their tech spending from maintaining old systems to investing in new capabilities. Hurd points out that Oracle invests in industry-specific research and development, so companies can capitalize on that work without having to do the heavy lifting themselves.
- Innovation has become a distributed dynamic. R&D, which used to happen behind closed doors, is becoming a more open, iterative process. Because businesses are already behind the tech innovation curve (see trend #2 above), they must find ways to tap into the innovation happening all around them. “We’re moving to distributed innovation processes,” said Professor James Cash of Harvard Business School. “The innovation going on in the rest of the world can probably overwhelm what companies can do internally.” (For an example of how one company is using external innovation to create new customer-facing services, see “BT’s New Playing Field Combines Broadband, Innovation, and Global Sports.”)
- Big data remains a huge opportunity. Businesses recognize the potential of big data, but few have the pieces in place to convert that potential into a business advantage. Sonny Singh, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Oracle’s Financial Services Global Business Unit, said 63 percent of respondents to an Oracle survey gave their organizations a grade of “C” or lower in preparedness for the data deluge. Here too, industry-specific solutions can help. Check out my blog post on the trend among healthcare providers to deploy enterprise data warehouses with a data model, middleware, and analytics suited to their needs.
- Companies are moving beyond old-style business and IT alignment. There was a time when CEOs could take comfort in knowing that their business and IT strategies were closely aligned, but those days are over. Tech leaders must go a step further and play an active role in corporate strategy setting and competitive analysis. “You must be participating in the strategy-formulation process,” said Professor Cash in a keynote presentation.
- Consumers expect immediate availability of products and services. It’s not enough to attract customers with low prices and wow them with great service—you better have what they’re looking for. Oracle’s The New Retail Democracy survey reveals that consumers put a premium on product availability. In fact, 58 percent say availability is more important that price, and 92 percent will not wait for products to come into stock. Retailers must excel at real-time inventory management and be able to share that information with customers.
- Business transformation requires great project management. I made this point a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating: Success at business transformation hinges on efficient and effective execution one project at a time. Otherwise your company’s big ideas, and the investments behind them, are at increased risk of underperformance or failure, and that can have a domino effect on related efforts.
- Every employee must be prepared for real-time decision-making. Whether you’re CEO or chief bottle washer, there comes a point (sometimes many of them) in every employee’s day when decisions are made that have a direct impact on a customer’s experience, a transaction, or some other business opportunity. “The average employee has to make critical decisions—that’s huge,” said Mark Hurd. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to close the tech gap that separates them from consumers, capitalize on big data, and explore new ways to make every customer interaction count.
- Industry-specific business challenges require industry-specific solutions. There are areas of overlap among industries, but that doesn’t change the fact that banks, hospitals, department stores, and other organizations have their own idiosyncrasies, business processes, distribution channels, and other industry-specific requirements. A grocery store manager wouldn’t use a baby thermometer to monitor the temperature of fruits and vegetables, would he? Likewise, he wouldn’t use a healthcare app to manage grocery goods.
- Industries are morphing. Phone companies have their own retail outlets, grocery stores rent movies, and coffee shops distribute music. What’s going on? Industries are changing, and, as they do, companies are adopting new business practices and models. At Oracle Industry Connect, a healthcare exec listened as other speakers discussed ways their industries are using social media for customer feedback and engagement. “This is an area healthcare has a lot to learn from retail and utilities,” she said.
Of course, social, mobile, and cloud are major drivers across industries and a big part of the reason things are moving so fast. How is your company being impacted by these disruptive forces? Is the business you’re in now the same as it was a few years ago? Let’s discuss—leave a comment here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.