Welcome to the Age of the Customer. The only way forward now is to be not merely customer focussed, but obsessed.

In a blog post discussing the latest Forrester Research findings, analyst Josh Bernoff contends the only sustainable source of advantage in today’s market is to engage with and have deep knowledge of customers. “A customer obsessed company focuses its strategy, its energy, and its budget on processes that enhance knowledge of an engagement with customers,” he writes.

This paradigm shift, already taking place, requires a change in thinking on an organisation-wide scale, and is driven by the fact that now product, pricing and competitor information is everywhere ­– including our pockets as we browse the supermarket – simply trying to shout above the noise just creates louder noise. Engaging customers with interactive and mobile content will build relationships and encourage loyalty.

The Forrester report predicts budget priorities will be moving away from traditional areas like brand advertising, massive mergers, supplier relationships and dominating distribution channels. The report lists four key areas where budgets should be directed: Real-time customer listening, customer experience, intelligent sales channels, and marketing content that engages.

Surveys are now too slow, single channel customer service programs driven by call quotas are counterproductive, and one-way megaphone-style advertising can and will be completely ignored.

Companies that can master this, like IBM, Best Buy, Amazon and Apple will thrive. Companies that don’t – that continue to lock in customers, that rely on surveys to gauge satisfaction, that don’t change with the times – will slowly fade away.