What’s the top imperative at your company? If it’s not a transformation to make the company more customer-focused, you’re making a mistake. Technology and economic forces have changed the world so much that an obsession with winning, serving and retaining customers is the only possible response.

We’re in an era of persistent economic imbalances defined by erratic economic growth, deflationary fears, an over-supply of labor, and surplus capital hunting returns in a sea of record-low interest rates. This abundance of capital and labor means the path from good idea to customer-ready product has never been easier, and seamless access to all of the off-the-shelf components needed for a startup fuels the rise of “weightless companies” which further intensify competition.

Chastened by a weak economy, presented with copious options, and empowered with technology, consumers have more market-muscle than ever before. The information advantage tips to consumers with ratings and review sites. They claim pricing power by showrooming. And the only location that matters is the mobile phone in their hand from which they can buy anything from anyone and have it delivered anywhere.

This customer-driven change is remaking every industry. Cable and satellite operators lost almost 400,000 video subscribers in 2013 and 2014 as customers dropped them for the likes of Netflix. Lending Club, an alternative to commercial banks, has facilitated more than $6 billion in peer-to-peer loans. Now that most B2B buyers would rather buy from a website than a salesperson, we estimate that one million B2B sales jobs will disappear in the coming years.

To thrive in the age of the customer, winning companies will embrace four mutually reinforcing market imperatives in order to become a customer-obsessed company: 1) For speed, tap into mobile connections; 2) For intelligence, set up systems to gather customer knowledge; 3) For impact, build a better customer experience; and 4) To become flexible, embrace digital transformation.

Most companies have made some progress on mobile, big data, customer experience, and digital transformation initiatives. But the most advanced companies -- including McDonald’s in France, Home Depot, Salesforce and T-Mobile -- truly embrace customer obsession when their strategies combine these mutually reinforcing imperatives.

Delta Air Lines recognized that improving customer experience – with a focus on eliminating cancelled flights – could make a world of difference in its business. Mobile apps for customers, flight attendants, and pilots streamline the experience for everyone. Making these applications sing required retooling back-end systems and led Delta to acquire staff and technology from travel technology firm Travelport. The result of this focus was a 13-point year-over-year jump in its Customer Experience Index score. Learn more about what Delta and other leaders are doing to thrive in the age of the customer in our new report, "Winning In The Age Of The Customer." 

Transforming a company to become truly customer obsessed is difficult. The four marketing imperatives are your path to success, and business technology (BT) powers the change. To thrive in the age of the customer, CMOs must partner with CIOs to advance the BT agenda, creating the technologies, systems and processes that increase agility, facilitate innovation and improve customer experience.  

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