Building an Intent-Driven Organization

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
If a company isn't anticipating customers' intents, then customer centricity is at risk.

Companies often rely too much on creating efficiencies, and not enough on developing a dynamic and flexible culture that can respond to customers' changing needs. To sustain customer centricity organizations must become intent driven, which requires them to ask themselves: "Do we consistently identify the intent of our customers (their needs) and then build processes that match these intents in ways that meet the needs of the organization?" Here is an example of the gap between customer and corporate intentions:

Customer Intent: A customer buys health insurance.

Corporate Intent: Limit liability and maximize profits.

Scenario: Customer's child turns 18 and leaves for college. Requiring a doctor, the student looks for one inside the family's health plan system. On contacting the insurer, the student is told that she is outside of her coverage area and will not be covered for the visit.

Implication: The business has enough data to notify parents when their children are in their senior year of high school that, should the child move away after high school, they will need to see if their child is still in the coverage area. Since the family's intent is to stay covered, and the business' intent is to keep the family as a customer, the business must build in a rule that triggers a message to the insurance broker or directly to the customer that their coverage needs may change.

Recognizing the intent behind customer interactions
The ability to understand and deliver what the customer wants and needs underpins a successful intent-driven, customer-centric organization. Customers' needs vary depending on: 1) their life stage (common in a B2B environment); 2) the health of their relationship with the organization; and 3) the strength of competitive offerings.

The range of possible customer intents prevents a perfect understanding of all of them. In retail banking, for example, a client may not know or want to share plans to buy or sell a home, or a business may not tell a supplier that it is moving production to China in six months. However, recognizing that the intent can have a significant effect on customer satisfaction remains critical. The question of intent then becomes not only an issue of which processes to enable, but also which customer intents to best enable, as well as how to apply established processes or create new ones to enable this larger concept of a process.

For customer-facing processes to be intent-driven, organizations must balance the intentions that the business has for the customer with the most likely intentions that the customer has for the business. Interactions constitute moments of truth when the business lives up to its promises or fails to do so. Without an intent discipline in place, interactions focus on fitting the customer into the needs of the organization. This happens by efficiently processing the customer, without recognizing that efficiency is only one possible intent-and is not the most effective strategy to grow and retain customers. There are three main steps necessary to build an intent discipline:

Step 1: Adopt a customer relationship model versus a transactional model. The notion of a relationship sometimes carries with it the concept of delayed gratification (for example, postponing profit today to capture profit downstream). However, this is not always the case. For some industries (for example, B2B commodity-oriented industries), cost today is more important than a long relationship. But even here, a relationship view is still present. This approach requires boldness and vision because a relationship model entails a balance of short- and long-term goals for the customer. When companies focus on the customer relationship, they can begin to prioritize between optimizing the current value of the relationship versus lifetime value.

Step 2: Create an integrative reward system. It's imperative to empower people to work together across the organization to achieve customer loyalty and profit improvement. One reason why organizations fail to respond to customer intent is organizational fragmentation. In such cases, it is difficult to implement changes in a customer process that spans multiple departments (or channels).

Step 3: Match the time dimension of intent to the customer. Organizations and customers each have their own sales and buying cycles. Aligning the organization's time frames of its buying and selling cycles with customers' time frames during a particular selling or buying process, or an interaction within that process, requires a cultural and intent-driven process change across the organization.

Establishing an intent discipline is crucial to success, but building an intent-driven organization also requires more than just matching the intent of the customer during an interaction with the intent of the organization. It requires integrating the organization into the customer's life so that the intent of the organization (typically revenue and profit growth) is met, while pleasing the customer. And that is the most critical step in building any customer-centric organization.

Contact Nelson at and
Maoz at