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Transforming to a customer-centric enterprise: NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2008 news
15 February 2008

Mumbai: Speaking at the NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2008, Drew Martin, senior vice president and chief information officer, Sony Electronics, put commitment and culture ahead of information technology in an organisation's quest to becoming a 'customer centric' organisation.

In order to become a customer centric organisation, Martin says that it is important to stay relevant to the customer, in brand, products, and services. Highlighting the example of Sony, he said that the company started out as a manufacturer of rice cookers, and would not have grown to a $60 billion enterprise had it not stayed in tune with its customers' needs. Drawing from slides that he 'stole from marketing', Martin illustrated the importance of making every interaction with the customer an opportunity to grow the customer experience. Saying that customer's typically have two sides, rational and emotional, it is important that the company appeals to both in its quest to becoming more customer centric.

Citing a meeting with famed GE CEO Jack Welch, Martin says that something the former corporate chieftain said has stayed with him since that meeting. According to Martin, Welch said that there are only three things that are truly important for a company cash flow, happy employees, and happy customers.

Martin also rated 'adaptability' as one of the key characteristics in staying customer centric. ''After all,'' he continued, ''change is the only constant.'' Providing a most relevant example of the times, he highlighted Sony's efforts in interacting with customers online, explaining how social networking was changing the way companies and marketers were viewing the new generation of consumers.

He said that this online, connected world is bringing paradigm shifts in the ways marketers interact with customers, the biggest one being that today, a marketer creates an e-commerce website to market the company's products, where as in the future, marketers will look at user interactions with the marketer network, and marketers would indeed need to go to the user's networks, such as Facebook, Orkut, and many others.

Martin over the baton to Robert A Willett, CEO and CIO, Best Buy, the 1200 store strong US electronics retailer and one of Sony's biggest customers. Willett's contribution to the talk centred around explaining how Best Buy was transforming itself from a retailer into a service provider, through customer centricity.

Willett began his talk by saying that retailing today has become complex, competitive, and sophisticated, driven  by the dual forces of ''convergence and commoditisation''. This has driven Best Buy's transition from product to customer centricity, as convergence ensures that more and more features are packed into products, and customers assistance in learning how to use the new products. He also said that no sooner does a product come to market that it becomes a commodity, which again drives customer centricity in an increasingly "commoditised space".

Marketing electronics, Willett said, has moved from a mass marketing endeavour in the early part of the 1990s, to targeted marketing, and to personalised marketing. Very shortly in the future, part of which is already here, Willett said that this will move into what he called the ''co-creation experience,'' saying that customers will now tell companies which products to develop, as R&D initiatives get increasingly ''tapped out''. The key, according to Willett, will be, ''listen, listen, listen.''

Sharing his recipe for the 'secret sauce' of customer centricity, Willett said three ingredients are key invite employee ideas, provide end-to-end solutions, and honour unique customers. As evidence, he cited Best Buy's experience with its lone store in Shanghai, China, which sold $60 million worth of stuff within the first 11 months of opening.

For a company to avoid 'extinction', Willett says, is to ''stay relevant''. And the only way for it to do that, is to focus on the customer, leveraging new technologies, and most importantly, collaborate with one another. It is no longer about departmentalised, specialised 'parts' of the company. Willett says that Best Buy manages its 7 brands across the United States and Canada, including the popular help service Geek Squad, using a common 'below the ground' platform that is not visible to the customer, while above the ground, each service is differentiated. Commonality of purpose across the organisation is key for customer centricity, and according to Willett, ''Staying as we are is not an option!''

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Transforming to a customer-centric enterprise: NASSCOM India Leadership Forum 2008