A lot of companies across the globe are going to die over the next few years, and not because of macroeconomic stress, but because there is an entire emerging generation of customers who hate doing business with them.
These new customers and their coming customerpocalypse are the young generation that follows Generation C. With the evolution of the mobile web, Gen C evolved from the C for content to the C for communicating, computerised, clicking, and finally, connected and connected mobility.
Gen C influences every aspect of our lives and wreaks havoc on many businesses. They expect your company to be as centred around them as they are centred on themselves. They expect you to know what they know. Fail them, and they will come to hate you even more than they probably already do.
Now, if Gen C represents a daunting challenge, though, the customers on their heels ought to terrify you. While Gen C may just hate you, this new generation of customers may choose the path of trying to kill you. Meet Generation D.
Gen D customers are blowing up the very notion of customer relationship management. They’re not interested in a “relationship”. They will not be “managed”. They can’t hate being your customer, because they reject the very notion of being a “customer” of anyone—period. A customer, they believe, is someone businesses try to control. They expect to be in control themselves.
So just what does the D stand for? Well, Gen D wants to believe that they discover your product, service, or whatever on their own, without any selling on your part. If they love what they’ve found, they’ll devour it and share their devotion to it with the world. Cross them, and they’l demonise you to the world, and perhaps even set out to destroy you deliberately.
Gen D changes everything. Gen D is the future, and the continuity of your business depends on you to make a dramatic change in the way you think about customers and customer engagement. Your customers demand it. Your competitors are sharpening their knives. Incremental change won’t do the trick. You need to radically transform.
How did businesses get to this point, where they actually face destruction from the very customers they should be preparing for? The problem begins with data.
Data can kill your business. The data you choose to focus on can drive you to make some really bad decisions about your customers and about influencing their behaviour. Not only do Gen D customers reject being told how to behave, but they’ll tell the world you’re trying to manipulate them. Yet, most companies structure their relationships with their customers based on tons of customer data and the infamous 360-degree view of the customer, which implies that if you can put your customer in the middle of a circle you can gather up all the data about that customer and create a full view of that customer from every angle.
Data, though, even tons of data, has a serious limitation: it is nothing more than memory. It’s about the past. You wouldn’t rely exclusively on memory to make decisions in your life, but that’s what businesses do when they rely on data. They amass so much data that no one customer service rep can possibly navigate, understand, and interpret quickly enough for it to serve the best possible use, which requires context.
If you’re viewing customers only through the lens of data, you’re looking at the equivalent of an old, fuzzy, black-and-white TV. You’re not going to see customers in the colour that can reveal a deeper understanding and that can guide you to do what’s best. That’s why you need to put data in context, which combines memory (data) with intent. Context is the first line of defense against death by data.
Intent, which works bi-directionally, captures why customers come to you and what your own business wants to achieve with those customers. It is desire moderated by judgement. Intent transforms the black-and-white data to something rich in colour. You go from “just the facts” to the colour wheel. Intent makes data come alive, focused and relevant. It transforms memory from simply knowledge of the past into part of a powerful knowledge tool for the present and future. It does this by transforming the reactive into the proactive. With judgement, with intent added to the mix, data can be used to figure things out in a considerably more powerful way than looking at data alone. It allows you to work pragmatically to find the next-best action with customers that makes them delighted to do business with you. It is also the foundation for adaptive learning, which lets you validate that the predictive analysis that led you to the next-best action is optimal. These are powerful tools for preparing a survival kit for the customerpocalypse.
Still, though, there’s more you need to do if you’re to survive. To be responsive to customers, to be able to respond with that wisdom, you need some muscle to put memory and intent to work and deliver results. Processes provide that muscle. Chances are, though, that your existing processes aren’t right for the coming customerpocalypse.
You need customer processes that allow you to look in from your customer’s perspective at your business—across channels, silos, and whatever else breaks up your company into parts and potentially creates a disconnected, disjointed view to the customer—and see the whole. Seeing the whole is a prerequisite to giving customers a seamless, coherent experience of doing business with you.
This outside-in, but also side-to-side, way of thinking about the processes that help you run your business maps a customer’s intention with customer information to drive and guide a customer engagement to the completion that corresponds to what your customer wants. To achieve seamless customer interactions you must have customer processes that make customers experience your business in a way that is personalised, and that each customer senses is unique to his or her individual situation. No process can make that possible for your business if it isn’t a customer process that fuses data and intent.
Customer processes are more than seamless, though. They are built to be dynamic, able to shift how they work according to any particular customer situation or circumstance. They have no disconnections or interruptions. They give the customer a consistent single view of you. They can evolve with your customers and their new situations, as well as your own new business situations.
To make this all work, you’re going to have to take some truly radical steps. You have to stop paying lip service to “transforming technology” and fundamentally change how your entire enterprise thinks about, manages, and acquires technology. The stakes are too high, kicking the technology can down the road is no longer an option, and the advent of Gen D is looming.
(Alan Trefler is the billionaire, chess-playing founder of PegaSystems.)
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