Hearing The Voice Of The Customer Not The Brand

Reminders of how our expectations as customers have changed come from the most everyday experiences.

I recently took a trip to my ‘home’ city. I specifically picked a well renowned brand of hotel that would provide the practicalities of a short stay and the luxury required when having some well-earned relaxation and rest. The trip was fabulous, the hotel disappointing.

It wasn’t cheap, so the fact I had to pay for snacks that were in our hotel room did not bode well after a six hour drive. It was what I call a pretentious brand – how some brands remain brand-orientated (it’s all about us) rather than customer focused (it’s all about them).

Ridiculously, it got me thinking about what the difference is between brand centric and customer centric. The change in how we deliver ever increasing experiences, which are the true differentiators rather than the imposed products we sold in the past.

Here’s a table on brand centric vs customer centric to spark some thinking:

Price = ValueWhat more can we get from customers = How do we give customers more value
Spend the least amount to acquire new customer = Customer lifetime valueOwnership of customer = Access to customer
Transactional relationship = Enlightened relationshipPretentious/vain = Humble
Broadcast predominant = Listening predominantCampaigns = Community
Concentrating on the next big thing = Profitable customersMessage = Story
Product centric = Customer experienceInside out = Outside in
Know who you are = Know who they areBrand centric =  Customer centric

One is not mutually exclusive. One must not survive whilst the other dies. On the contrary, the two need to co-exist. A brand requires a good sense of self in order to talk intelligently and confidently to its customer about what it can achieve together. 

The next question is then; how does digital support this & enable them to coexist? The common myth is that digital is still a fringe event struggling to get its act heard (and together), and so it gets ignored.

Or, at the other end of the scale, organizations are ushering in digital departments in a bid to solve the problem, and so another silo is created.

Digital, in the long run shouldn’t lead the vision, it just fully enables it – of course there a few exceptions. 

There are three areas where digitalization can help balance the brand/customer centric approach:

1. Improvement of the process, the illustrious target being to reduce cost by being more efficient.

customer centric organizationA customer centric organization will design processes around a deep understanding of customer/employee behaviors, what they value, helping companies become less complex, eliminating non value adding processes and interactions.

Essentially the customer is at the heart of the decision making process. Apps built for brands that are customized for employees are the real players here.

Local government have been focusing on this extensively during the period of ‘austerity’ to reduce costs but to also support a better customer experience at critical touch points and so have health departments –

2. Redefining the relationship with the customer, creating better experiences and revenue growth.

The table above suggests customer centric means looking at communications in a different way. Digital has dictated that the brand and customer are more closely connected.

The distance that existed during the hey-day of brand has collapsed almost overnight. Redefining the relationship means you can design customer experiences to generate loyalty, revenue and growth.

Digital offers more visibility and insight into customer preferences, needs and desires at a very personal level, leveraging data to understand who the next big customers are.

This, of course, means listening more, basing decision making on what customers want, not what you (the brand) thinks they want.

Timberland has done this very well by delving deeply into customer data and understanding needs. It has re booted its brand.

Digital platforms can help build the communities that customer centric organisations require. They connect and engage customers at levels never thought possible 15 years ago.

“Digital, in the long run shouldn’t lead the vision, it just fully enables it – of course there a few exceptions.”

The more connected a customer is, the more a relationship will be enlightened. Loyalty grows from that. Customer journey, touch points, moments that matter are more important than they ever were especially as customers expect an equal experience physically as well as digitally.

3. Collaborate to innovate, leveraging employee experience to develop the ideas of the future.

As with customers, digital allows organizations to collaborate internally on a scale never seen before, changing a culture to a point where it instinctively puts the user or customer at the centre of innovative thinking. 

Ideas can be shared quickly, prototyped and launched in conjunction with clients at a cost effective level across geographical locations offering diverse experiences. 

Digital transformation breaks down those internal silos. (customers don’t live in silos, so why are brands organized like that?) We see examples of how digital can be disrespectful of legacy infrastructure across many sectors. It can and should run deeply across the organization into every nook and cranny.

This is not about creating a plethora of ideas that never see the light of day. It is about focusing on what is needed not what is possible, essentially quickly recognising those that will add value to the customer centric process and experience. 

When effectively deployed, open innovation, using stakeholders to collaborate found new thinking, new people and new technology that were previously unknown. 

BASF, the chemical company, has done this successfully over the last few years. Using digital to allow employees to collaborate online across more than 15 countries in the region.

Customer centric thinks about value over the long term – more so than the price of the product. A brand will start to fail and increasingly become irrelevant in the future if it’s not held up by what the customer values in it. 

Wrapping Up

Pulling together the creative thinking and data insights will be the foundation of success as will asking your customer what makes you distinctive. Designing experiences based on that rather than what the brand arrogantly thinks it is.

Again digital is not a fringe event nor is it a silo.

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