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In the digital age, companies need a mind shift in order to understand the difference between being customer-focused, in the traditional sense of supply meeting demand, and the action of placing the customer at the very core of everything they do. The former is only surface deep and sometimes repeated as a marketing empty mantra as the latter is actually a strategy that permeates to the roots of a business and engages every employee.

A new customer paradigm

In the current climate, customers are more demanding, informed and vocal than ever. They are the ones calling the shots and expect products and services tailored to their specific needs. Competing on price and product alone is not possible anymore and success is highly dependent on customer experience and how it is transmitted in a global, all-seeing, all-hearing marketplace. Experts and consultants constantly warn of the danger of a simple cosmetic gloss seen as going "customer-centric" because the product-centric mindset is deeply entranced in the structure of old organizations.

This new customer paradigm has become a matter of competitive edge and business survival and by 2020 customer experience is going to overtake price and product as key brand differentiator according to the US-based consulting firm Walker Information. To stay relevant in 2020, companies "must emphasize proactive and personalized service", says Walker. And that's because with this explosion of digital technologies and the acceleration of innovation, "customers will be more informed and in charge of the experience they receive". Digital technology not only puts consumers in control, but it also gives companies sophisticated tools to get closer to their customers. Big data and analytics help businesses to better understand customer needs and circumstances, affording insights that provide levels of attention and care that were not previously possible. All these improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and boost revenue.

A key benefit of being customer-centric is the possibility to increase customer loyalty and customer retention rates. The thing is that satisfied customers not only become repeat customers, they also become advocates for the brand, spreading the word and widening the potential marketplace for a product or service. 

Digital transformation is not enough

The question remaining once a company decides to accelerate its digital transformation is where this transformative effort should be directed. For most companies, the answer is approaching customers and identifying their needs, wants and purchasing behaviors. Microsoft’s "Guide to the future" shows that 37% of respondents have predictive analytics and biometrics as their core investment priority with mobile applications (36%), business intelligence (34%) and social tools (31%) following. Though priorities are pretty similar across industries, the financial sector pays more attention to business intelligence, while the manufacturing sector favors predictive analytics. In CEE, 83% of companies expect growth from their digital transformation, with 70% considering the IT solutions essential for their business, shows the Microsoft report.

The same study also states that a mindset shift is needed in order to thrive, not just survive. Digital transformation is not enough; organizations need to change their culture and start to envision themselves as digital companies.

But the danger of panic purchases of solutions that are expected to work their magic is ubiquitous as is the hype around new technologies. In order to become customer-centric through digital transformation, it is important to clarify the objective of going digital and understand that digital innovation is a sum of parts, a tight ecosystem. Also, a guiding principle of the digital transformation must be improving the understanding of customer behavior throughout the purchase cycle.

Unfortunately, many organizations miss the criticality of integration and continue viewing their digital activity as pockets of business rather than as a fully cohesive journey that's embedded and aligned throughout the business for a data-driven culture.
 
Consistency of service across multiple channels should be obtained through seamless interconnectivity and this demands a simple, intuitive platform that not only connects all data and devices but enhances the intelligence collected through deeper analytical insights. This defines the most successful digital businesses in this day and age.