The year of the empowered customer

This article is from Antony Mayfield, Founding Partner and CEO, Brilliant noise.

Companies organized around the customer were strengthened in 2016. In 2017, this strategy continued to bear fruit for the brands and the companies that adhere to it.

Businesses that put the customer first win big. Well, duh, you might well answer this truism – who else would win? When you listen to your customers and give them first class service, they will come back – we knew that years ago, right?

Customer-centric technology

Yet the story of the past few decades has not necessarily always been about the customer first, then the business. Stock analysts always look at balance sheets and growth forecasts, instead of proving whether corporate cultures are obsessed with customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Digital transformation is an idea that has made it possible to become more customer-centric over the past five years or so. But while the promise of digital transformation has been fulfilled by some companies, for many it has been hijacked by proponents of technology solutions and automation to cut costs.

There is a clear difference between high-tech / low-cost digital transformation and transformation based on the principle of putting the customer first, while developing a corporate culture to support it.

Focus on finance

Financial services is an industry where digital transformation has been used to automate services, most of the time, resulting in layoffs in bank branches and call centers. Customers weren’t winning here, as the focus was on investing in technology to keep costs down. The new disruptors in this space are thriving because they put the customer experience first. High Street Metro Bank aims to delight in-store shoppers, while emerging online brands like Monzo and Zopa are simply offering better deals and easy-to-use apps to outsmart the big incumbents. Monzo and Metro both stand out by not charging a fee every time a customer uses their card abroad. Simplicity itself.

Because the customers are worth it

The beauty industry is a prime example of how incumbent companies join forces with influencers to connect with their clients. An industry insider recently told me that of the 15 billion views of beauty-related videos in the past year, only 2% was of brand-created content. And a bit counterintuitively, that’s okay. By leveraging the influence of bloggers and YouTubers, these brands can speak directly to their customers within their own online communities.

Big brands can still spend a fortune on ‘viral’ wellness and Cannes winning videos old habits die hard but the customer’s attention is firmly with UGC and YouTube.

Brands should spend time and money figuring out what their customers want to hear, more than what the brand wants to say. My slogan for this idea would be “listen to your customers… because they are worth it”.

From content to commerce

The champion of customer-centric digital transformation over the past five years is Burberry. With the ambition to be the first digital luxury brand, its leaders understood straight away that it would not be about better advertising algorithms, but to get closer to its communities. While so many of its digital efforts – online and in-store – are exemplary, you can take every Spring / Summer show since 2010 as a benchmark of its growing digital maturity. In the beginning there was the “Tweetwalk”, live updates of the show, then live broadcasts in its stores. Then, customers could purchase the clothes on the catwalk from their mobile devices instead of waiting six months for the new looks to appear in store. By 2016, Burberry’s digital transformation had reached all of its customer touchpoints and supply chain, the very heart of its business model.

The company replaced the Spring / Summer and Fall / Winter shows (whose names were only correct in the Northern Hemisphere) with six monthly shows showcasing what people could buy immediately in-store and online. Getting there wasn’t just flashy apps and smart social media experts. Supplier contracts had to be renegotiated and the entire design, production and execution process was redesigned. All of these changes and transformations have not been driven by a single leader, but by a new culture of customer obsession. Customers wanted these changes, Burberry gave them to them, and the business flourished.

The authorized client

Customers will be more connected than ever in 2017, and communications should be designed around how they search for information and products. Once you have the ability to connect with your customers, hear what they want, and gain opportunities to speak to them, it can change the whole business. Heroes like Burberry can serve as inspiration for every brand willing to adapt to the customer-centric reality in the digital age.

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