Amazon aspires to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company” and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks passionately not about customer-driven, but customer obsession. An empty chair is often kept in meetings, where the customer is symbolically seated.
As we start 2014 more and more CEOs are recognising that to deliver sustainable competitive advantage in the digital age they have to be able to meet the demands and expectations of today’s empowered and connected consumers consistently and continuously in real time. To achieve this successfully their organisations are going to have to put the customer at the heart of everything they do and then apply scaleable social technologies across the entire company to help make this happen in a human way. They are going to have to become what is being coined a “human era” company, able to manage brands that are more “human”, people-powered entities.
Applying customer obsession in the digital age
Customer obsession in the digital age means understanding that consumers expect their interactions with your organisation and brands to be not just “always on” but “on demand”. They want to be able to do things immediately and interact anywhere at anytime (immediate, real time); they want to do truly new things that create value for them and that delight them (valuable). They expect all data stored about them to be targeted precisely to their needs and personalised to their experience (relevant & personal). Above all they expect their interactions to be simple (easy). And lastly the “on demand” customer desires a more human interaction with companies and brands (human).
Meaningful human connections can’t be formed in one direction — they require the company or brand to reciprocate, to level with consumers. When they do, the connections become a foundation for something we all intuitively understand and value highly: trust. However, for companies to be human in deeds as well as words, a fundamentally different mindset must prevail – that the role of the firm is no longer just to make and sell products, but also to engage deeply and openly with customers as collaborators in creating value together (Social Capital).
Already, search technologies have made product information ubiquitous; social media encourages consumers to share, compare, and rate experiences; and mobile devices add a “wherever” dimension to the digital environment. Technology will only continue to empower consumer expectations in these five ways. Further developments in mobile connectivity, better designed online spaces created with the powerful new HTML5 web language, the activation of the Internet of Things in many devices through inexpensive communications tags and micro-transmitters, and advances in handling “big data” will just accelerate the appetite of the “on demand” customer. Soon they will be able to search by image, voice, and gesture; automatically participate with others by taking pictures or making transactions; and discover new opportunities with devices that augment reality in their field of vision (think Google Glass).
So to deliver against these 5 key expectations of Immediate, Valuable, Personal, Easy and Human in real time there needs to be a clear framework where the “on demand customer” is at the heart of everything a company does. A customer driven knowledge framework that sits at the centre of a company’s organisation like the hub of a bicycle wheel where all marketing and business disciplines feed in to and out from the “on demand” customer.
Applying social technology with a human touch
The application of social technology is essential to helping companies put the “on demand” customer at the heart of a company. In many ways technology can also allow companies to be more human; to do things that we would naturally do in 1-2-1 and face-to-face situations. Technology can help us apply a human touch but on a mass scale. But achieving this can be a major effort for organizations that were not born digital.
What is most challenging for our clients is the ability to operate in a joined-up, end-to-end way. Many of the companies we work for are siloed around different functions or geographies. But “on demand” customers expect a fully consistent and joined-up experience. And that requires companies to think quite differently about the way they organize, their governance structures, and their standards for data and systems.
It’s also apparent that this is not just about the marketing function on its own. The company as a whole must mobilize to deliver high-quality experiences across multiple disciplines and across the entire value chain: sales, innovation and collaboration, service, product use, finance, logistics and marketing. Social technologies can help ensure “on demand customers” touch every part of the organisation in a human way and every part of the organisation is driven in real time by “on-demand” customer expectations.
Applying Socially Intelligent Research
McKinsey said recently: “We’re placing a bet that as customer behavior becomes more fluid and complex and where business models can be disrupted overnight, the client community will welcome the opportunity to have a more holistic, adaptive and responsive view of the customer”.
To win over on-demand customers, companies will increasingly need to spend a lot of time getting to know them, what they expect, and what works with them, and then have the ability to reach them with the right kind of interaction and content at the right time. Unsurprisingly at FACE we believe that big social data integrated with other research methodologies lies at the heart of efforts to build that understanding—data to define and contextualize trends, data to measure the effectiveness of activities and investments at key points in the consumer decision journey, and data to understand how and why individuals move along those journeys.
Here are 3 important questions we want our clients to be asking themselves this year:
1. How does our customer experience compare with that of leaders in other sectors?
2. What will our customers expect in the future, and what will it take to delight them?
3. Do we have clear plans for how to meet or exceed their expectations?
We believe that socially intelligent research has a big role to play in helping companies and brands become more socially intelligent by informing their behaviour with a holistic view of the consumer so that they become more human, more social, people powered entities.
Andrew Needham is a Founding Partner and CEO of FACE Research. A pioneer in the use of social data in qualitative and quantitative research to deliver a holistic view of the consumer, Andrew is leading the global expansion of FACE.