By Andrew Stone
It’s an uncomfortable fact that as customers we are growing ever more capricious and demanding. With the swipe of a touchscreen device we can command our own little consumer empires, selecting and dismissing from a world of choice in products and services that even the most pampered kings of old couldn’t have dreamed of.
This fast changing, often digitally-powered revolution is leaving many businesses struggling to keep up, stay relevant and maintain margins. Technology is driving this trend but it also offers answers to those prepared to adapt intelligently.
A good starting point is to recognise that your customer is a chameleon “a constantly changing persona, who defies the confines of traditional market segmentation” in the words of a report called This time it’s personal: from consumer to co-creator.
According to the Ernst & Young study, which surveyed 25,000 people of all ages and backgrounds in 34 countries, across mature and emerging markets, todays consumer “has conflicting preferences and facets: shops online but demands the human touch, insists on individualised service but communicates in packs. This individual is hard to read – and even harder to please.”
Increasingly the way to win their custom is through personalised services, says the report. “They want a greater say in how they experience service. They want products and services to be designed, sold, delivered, serviced and purchased in a way that suits them. They want to be active co-creators, not passive consumers.”
The trend towards personalised products is well underway. A new breed of businesses such as London startup Makielab, which offers personalised dolls, to Ponoko, which will make designs of your own in fashion, electronics and homewares and toys thanks to 3D printing, laser cutting and other automated processes are just two out of dozens of examples. You name it – from books to windsurfers – products can be made to the specifications of a single customer.
It is arguably a less well developed idea in the service sector but service providers as well as purveyors of physical products can and should take note.
The good news is that your business may be able to work with your customers in the innovation process, by developing collaborative partnerships to improve product relevance, business efficiencies and greater loyalty.
O2’s mobile phone service giffgaff is a good example of a service ‘co-created’ with customers that achieves all these things. Members participate in giffgaff’s sales, marketing and customer service, receiving financial rewards for doing so.
The ability to fuse the real and the virtual through digital technology offers another potentially powerful way for innovative businesses to customise their offerings or to offer altogether new products and services altogether.
The augmented reality tours that Paris’s Louvre art gallery is offering visitors by lending out Nintendo 3DS handheld devices is just one example of new services and better experiences that can be created by merging the real and the virtual and the possibilities are limited only to corporations’ imaginations.
The challenge for incumbent brands and firms looking to fight nimble newcomers is not just a technological one, however. They must ensure the old way of doing things does not clash with the new by making the customer experience coherent and consistent, says the report.
“Organisations must align their entire value chain to provide a personalised customer journey. From bespoke product and service variants and flexible delivery, to adaptable payment and communication options and cross-channel recall of customer preferences.”
“Organisations must deliver a positive experience across every customer touch point, including all consumer communications. It is only by delivering an all-round positive customer experience that companies can build the strong and loyal brand communities that can protect their products from commoditisation and their reputations from tarnishing.
But the potential prize is great, says the study. “Companies that harness the principles of good marketing behind these action points and truly transform their organisations – and their offerings – along customer-centric lines, can achieve great competitive advantage: in the relevance of their offering, the end-to-end efficiency of their value chain and the loyalty of their customers.”
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