The Rise of the Customer Intuitive Enterprise

Albert Einstein once said, “The only real valuable thing is intuition.” He could have been talking about customer intuition in today’s challenging business climate. To be able to anticipate how a customer will react to different circumstances, from a competitive offer to a global pandemic, is to truly know thy customer.

Getting to this place, which we call the “customer-intuitive enterprise,” takes an incredible amount of work. A strong data foundation must be laid brick by brick. Powerful predictive analytics need to surface customer insights. Actions have to be taken in the customer’s moment of need. Every employee must be moving toward data-driven customer intuitiveness.

Being intuitive is essentially the same as anticipating actions in a customer base.

“The holy grail is for companies to become anticipatory,” says Keyur Desai, former chief data officer at TD Ameritrade, in a new CMO Council report. “If you’re postured that way as a company, it’s much cheaper to operate rather than being reactive.”

By doing so, a customer-intuitive enterprise can surprise customers by meeting their needs before they arise. A customer heading to the grocery store, for instance, might trip a geofence and receive a shopping list with their preferences based on historical buying patterns, as well as discounts and special offers.

Let’s be clear: No one is really there yet.

The vast majority of brands aren’t even close. Nearly 60% of marketers point to inconsistencies with the depth and granularity of customer insights, while a shocking 36% admit they don’t have the data to know their consumers, let alone anticipate needs, according to the CMO Council.

To be a customer-intuitive enterprise requires much more than gaining insights on how customers use your products. It’s not about grouping buyers into dehumanizing personas. If you’re merely collecting customer photos and learning about their hobbies, you’re not  scratching the surface.

“We have to go deeper,” says CEO Mike Marcellin of Juniper Networks, in the CMO Council report. “The most powerful insights are truly getting to the personal motivations.”

Understanding what motivates people is the first step toward anticipating their behavior and, ultimately, becoming a customer-intuitive enterprise. Of course, this requires capturing a lot of customer interactions on the frontlines.

A lion’s share of customer data within an organization comes from marketing, making the CMO the ideal person to guide a company along this journey. From websites to online chats to social media, marketing is present at all of the major touch points.

Unfortunately, most CMOs rely on human marketers to make intuitive hunches about what customers will do next, only to bring in data and analytics afterward to see if those hunches were right. Companies can’t lead with data and analytics because they have a fractured data foundation, insufficient or bad data, and a poor understanding of the data supply chain.

Another roadblock tripping up data-driven customer intuition is a corporate culture mired in tradition. Most corporate cultures remain fixated on the top and bottom lines, while marketers’ remit is to deliver top line growth with a reasonable operating expense outlay. Not the stuff of a futuristic, customer-intuitive enterprise.

“Can we predict how certain threats make customers behave? Maybe, if we game theory it out,” a marketing executive told me. “Could we have predicted how people would react to COVID-19? Probably, if we had time to do so.”

We can only imagine if they did.

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