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Why CEOs must become customer-experience evangelists

Mark Hurd, president of Oracle | Oct. 17, 2013
Conventional wisdom has lately been taking a terrible beating from modern technology as today's natively social and mobile generation relegates big chunks of traditional business strategy to the junk-heap of irrelevance.

So what's causing this disconnect? The respondents spread the blame equally across three culprits: inflexible technology that can't handle modern social tools, siloed organizations that can't adapt to rapid external disruptions, and insufficient funding.

As I look at those three obstacles — core technology, organizational structures, and budget priorities — it's clear that they can't be overcome by a feisty social team, or a hard-charging sales leader, or even by a forceful finance chief. No, those barriers to becoming a truly social business that can deliver superb customer experiences can only be knocked down by the CEO.

The customer-experience evangelist
And that's why in my meetings with customers across the country and around the world, I tell CEOs that they need to become customer-experience evangelists. It's not enough for CEOs to bless some plans for which others will be champions, or to ask the CFO to see if he can reallocate some funding to kickstart a customer experience campaign.

Instead, CEOs need to make customer experience a top priority across the company, and make customer experience a central goal of transformational efforts that attack those three obstacles that today only look like inconveniences, but that tomorrow will manifest themselves as dangerous and devastating threats.

Let me focus for a moment on one of those impediments that I think is the most serious: inflexible and outdated technology. At many of the companies I visit, CEOs tell me their organization is not nimble enough and they can't get the right information to the right people at the right time. They tell me that their customer satisfaction numbers are slipping, and that they're spending almost all of their IT budget on old stuff in the basement that isn't delivering any real value or helping address these new and urgent challenges.

And after listening to those symptoms, I'll ask, "How old are your core business applications?" Quite often, the answer is 15 years old or even 20. That means that the company's mission-critical business processes, that are managed by the underlying business applications, are based on software that today should be regarded as prehistoric because it was written before the Web became popular; before consumer search engines; before smartphones; and certainly before social media and social engagement and social business.

The result is a massive technological mismatch that manifests itself in out-of-synch information flows and missed opportunities, incomplete visibility and misaligned organizations and a frustrated and under-equipped workforce — one that might be fully willing to win in the marketplace, but simply doesn't have the tools to do so.

Those 15-year-old or 20-year-old apps were never intended to function in today's modern world — it's the equivalent of taking a tricycle to a Formula One race.


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