Companies now live in the “Age of the Customer,” according to Forrester. Indeed, customers have a direct relationship with a company in the digital enterprise. With the Internet and social media, your customers are in constant contact with your company.

CIOs play a significant role in helping organizations become more customer-focused. 

This is a theme I heard repeatedly while recently attending the MIT CIO Symposium. “There is no technology you can implement that doesn't touch the customer in some way,” Mark Holst-Knudsen, CEO of ThomasNet told the audience on a panel at the Symposium. 

The message resonated deeply with me. After all, helping our customers be “wildly successful” is central to Apptio’s mission. I wanted to explore this idea further – how are leaders in the digital age incorporating customer service and satisfaction into their long-term strategies? I found great insights in McKinsey’s latest report: “Digitizing the consumer decision journey.” While targeted at sales and marketing, recommendations from the report are vital to a CIO leading the digital enterprise. 

Focusing on the Customer

As CIOs enable business outcomes through technology, they must focus on the end customer just as much as, if not more than any other practice area within the organization. This is one of the principles of Technology Business Management (TBM). TBM is a discipline dedicated to running IT like a business – where aligning business and technology outcomes is essential to the strategic value of IT.

The McKinsey report states that to keep up with rapid technology cycles, companies must change their approach to one that embraces the speed that is brought on by digitization.  Instead, the focus must be to improve capabilities in three areas:

Discover: Build an analytic engine

Companies must apply advanced analytics to the large amount of structured and unstructured data at their disposal to gain a 360-degree view of their customers. Their engagement strategies should be based on an empirical analysis of customers’ recent behaviors and past experiences with the company, as well as the signals embedded in customers’ mobile or social-media data.

For the CIO’s organization, this means optimizing digital channels to create a central data mart that combines all the contacts a customer has with a brand.

Design: Create frictionless experience

Consumers now have much more control over where they will focus their attention, so companies need to craft a compelling customer experience in which all interactions are expressly tailored to a customer’s stage in his or her decision journey.

The IT organization has a unique opportunity to collaborate with all other functions to help design this frictionless customer experience. 

Deliver: Build a more agile organization

It is here that the CIO and their IT organization can lead and deliver most value. 

Companies with a deep customer-focus require agile teams of experts in analytics and IT, marketing, and experience design. These cross-functional teams need strong collaborative and communication skills. They must also display relentless commitment to iterative testing, learning, and scaling.

Companies need to make strategic decisions about the best pathways to build customer value,” the report states. A company’s success is often dependent on how well defined its long-term digital strategy is. This relates to its effectiveness in implementing that strategy, and the strength of its organizational infrastructure and IT to enable it.

The road ahead

It’s essential to communicate effectively with your business peers as you plan out your digital strategy. Part of this will come from using the same value metrics as your business partners. This report by the TBM Council and Forrester recommends formulating a Business Technology Value Scorecard to facilitate deeper IT-business conversations

We will also be continuing these important discussions at our 2014 Technology Business Management Conference in Miami, October 28-30. Earlybird registration is now open, so don’t miss out! I look forward to seeing you there.