Can CIOs catch up with multichannel customer engagement?

With the recent release of Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2015: Eye on the Buyer, it is clear that marketing is accelerating the pace of budgetary and strategic ownership of technology. Not only was customer engagement technology the top CMO expenditure in 2014 but it is also predicted to be the top innovation project by CMOs in 2015.

In almost 80% of the companies Gartner surveyed, marketing has its own independent capital expenditure budget used primarily for infrastructure and software for executing ROI-driven digital strategies.

It was easier for CIOs when there was a clear differentiation between online and offline customer engagement strategies. CIOs would never feel irrelevant if not invited to meetings about the design and distribution of print brochures or room logistics for client-facing events. Unfortunately online and offline have become virtually indistinguishable in the broader multichannel or omnichannel customer engagement experience we see today.

Part of this stems from the fact that IT departments are still organized to provide services to internal customers in supply chain, finance or sales. These services were typically delivered under corporate policy guidelines and silos dramatically different than the complex online buying journeys of today’s consumers.

Ironically, direct engagement with the customer was not foreign to IT in the early days of software usability, user experience, and human factors. However as web design applications became consumerized and shifted to corporate or consumer marketing divisions and their agencies, IT began to lose the last relic of direct digital customer engagement it had.

So CIOs are now going through the unenviable (or perhaps impossible) task of attempting to redesign their IT departments to become external customer-centric, interactive and silo-free. Most have found this approach to be the equivalent of re-tooling a Buick to drive like a Maserati. Unfortunately most of the businesses are already driving customer engagement muscle-cars and know the difference between a new car smell versus a cosmetic upholstery change of convenience in the IT suite.

The fact is that success with 21st century customer engagement requires seismic transformation in IT organizations stereotypically painted as glacial in the areas of change and agility.

To counter this perception there are three critical actions steps required to kick start the transformation process:

  1. Bypass the middleman  Despite the historic priority placed on the relationship with the business units, IT must rapidly shift its attention to an unfettered understanding of the behaviors of the final customer. This means living with the customer in the wild or what I’ve referred to as Feral Leadership. History tells me that the businesses present customer engagement experiences through a foggy lens that may serve their political interests and not necessarily that of the real customer.
  2. Don’t ever say “digital strategy” in public  Establish language-proficiency training programs on the respective granular subsets of multichannel customer engagement. Using the term “digital strategy” only begs the businesses to ask “Which of the hundreds of digital strategies are you talking about, grandpa?” Digital to them is virtually everything.
  3. Leverage your experience with unstructured data – Marketers are the first to admit that they have serious skills limitations in the area of data and analytics. This is even more profound when it comes to unstructured conversational data created from the thousands of social media engagements they create. Enterprise IT has every reason in the world to use its legacy as data processors to become experts in this quantitative aspect of multichannel customer engagement. Just watch your back as the new chief data science officer gains prominence.

What can you add to the CIO’s multichannel customer engagement onboarding list??



  1. Andrew Dart says:
  2. Andrew, great link.

    So do you think enterprise IT is prepared for all of this ?


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