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Listen to your data—a ‘sage’ guide to customer-focused decision-making during periods of disruption


During periods of significant disruption or discontinuity, it can be difficult to connect with customers directly, and historical data and decision-making processes often lose relevancy.

During a global health and economic crisis, for instance, the rate and magnitude of change that you need to address compounds that loss of context and creates a lack of knowledge—‘know how'—as to the most appropriate response to constantly shifting circumstances.

During the subsequent ‘fog of change,' management often scrambles for the best possible means to better understand the evolving situation, starting with the most fundamental questions: What is happening now? Why is it happening? What is likely to happen next? How should we adapt and respond to emerging realities?

While no one has the luxury of history or longitudinal information, our ‘sages'—our best sources of indirect insight—during critical points of transition are:

  • management information (transaction and operational data)
  • collective institutional knowledge
  • external industry data

The degree to which it's possible for you to ‘listen' to all three forms of data, to understand the significance of available data sets in real-time, and to assess the implications for your customers determines your ability to successfully respond during periods of dramatic change.

Consult sources of customer-focused data

Once you've listened to the high-level insights available to you through management information, collective institutional knowledge, and external industry data, critical insights into the changing needs of your customers and their desired experience can best be ‘heard' by turning your attention to four sources of customer-focused information:

  • operational/in-process data
  • customer-relationship-management (CRM) data
  • institutional knowledge
  • external/industry data

As you ‘listen' to each source, you can take a series of wise actions to improve your understanding of customers' changing requirements and desired experiences.

Wise actions you could take guided by customer-focused data are determined by the source you focus on—operational/in-process data, customer-relationship-management data, institutional-knowledge data, or external industry data.

Determine next steps by data set

  • Use customer-experience-journey maps to identify all major touch points and to understand what changes are occurring at each ‘moment of truth'—pre-purchase, purchase, product in-use, and after-sales support.
  • Pre-purchase data initiatives include listening to social-media channels, website activity, inside sales-inquiry data, and your sales force.
  • Purchase-data initiatives include listening to inside and outside sales data, and order-entry financial-system metrics.
  • Product-in-use data initiatives include listening to technical-desk feedback and product-training feedback.
  • After-sales-support-data initiatives include listening to invoicing, accounts receivable, product returns, and warranty handling.

  • Use customer-relationship-management (CRM) information to gain an understanding of historic relationship activity, the current reality, and determine the optimal strategic and tactical changes required to reposition your business in alignment with the changing needs of customers.
  • ‘Listen' to understand historic demand and relationship profiles.
  • Develop an understanding of new demand or relationship requirements.
  • Identify operational changes required to pricing, sales volumes and bundles, discounting, lead times, order fill-rates, technical assistance, returns, financing and warranty terms, and conditions.

  • Use internal-knowledge capital and sharing capabilities to translate what is required in terms of products, services, pricing, product or service availability, markets, and value-added resellers (VARS) in the new reality.
  • Determine who has what intellectual or knowledge capital by communicating with your team.
  • Establish mechanisms to access, collect, synthesize, and distribute knowledge.
  • Decide on a knowledge-management system and a governance structure.

  • Use a dynamic PESTEL capability to continually analyze the changing external environment:

    Political factors―legislation (current, proposed, and potential policy decisions), funding and incentives, trade restrictions, and fiscal or monetary policy

    Economic factors―economic growth, interest rates, exchange rates, tax policies (and changes), financing

    Social factors―population or demographic metrics, consumer confidence, customer buying trends, cultural trends

    Technological factors―technological maturity, access to upstream goods and services, distribution strengths

    Environmental factors―geographic location (access to supply and to end-markets), availability of a trained labour force, environmental compliance

    Legal factors―health-and-safety compliance, equal-opportunity legislation, IP protection, product safety, consumer protection

  • Establish functional best practices by understanding ideal operational procedures through your value-chain—sourcing to collection.
  • Employ performance benchmarking to know the levels of critical activity in your value chain.
  • Participate in industry think tanks and forums—available through associations and universities—to keep your ears open for industry-leading insight.

How BDO can help

BDO Consulting offers solutions help you listen to your customers more effectively.

We offer:

  • Dynamic strategic planning and scenario-based business cases (including certain future, alternative futures, broad range of futures, and greenfield uncertainty)
  • Customer-experience mapping and management
  • Operational data analytics
  • CRM implementation and analysis
  • Knowledge capture, collaboration, and communication
  • Industry and market analysis (including PESTEL analytics), competitor analysis, and product or service analysis
  • Best Practices (functional best practices focused on procurement, finance, human resources, information technology, pick/pack/ship, distribution, and sales and marketing)
  • Benchmarking (operational performance metrics)
  • Industry-based thought leadership

To learn more about how we can help you hear your customers, so you can adapt and respond during periods of disruption, contact Greg Lloyd, National Leader, BDO Consulting―Growth & Acquisition.

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