How can brands adapt in the Age of the Customer?

Forrester coined the phrase, “The Age of the Customer” back in 2010, recognising the importance of meeting customer’s heightened expectations in the digital age. Meeting or even exceeding those expectations and converting customers into advocates has become a widely accepted acquisition strategy as well as a primary driver of brand loyalty.

Brands are looking hard at social listening tools and innovative research methodologies to better understand their audience and predict future needs. This ambition is motivated by the desire to establish one-to-one customer relationships and to tailor those experiences based on their own unique set of needs.

Just look at the advances in the Virtual Assistants for instance. Google Now and Siri are fast approaching human accuracy and will soon be able to learn and listen for more than just instructions. Detecting, analysing and synthesising multiple pieces of data such as, tone of voice, timing, geo-location, calendar entries means that soon we will be offered solutions for problems we didn’t even know we had.

It is clear that we are have already entered the Age of the Customer but for many brands, adapting to this emerging landscape is proving to be a struggle.

Even amongst the most senior marketers, driving change within an organisation with its many moving parts is proving incredibly challenging. It is often the case that change and transformation at this scale cannot simply be mandated, but requires tacit support from stakeholders across the business. Agencies and consultancies who are not aware of these ‘real-life business challenges' and do not concern themselves with executing a customer-centric strategy are a huge frustration. Simply put – strategy without execution is worthless.

So, what are the key challenges that senior marketers are facing that necessitates this change? Why go through all this pain?

Aligning the business behind its vision.

Senior marketers are finding it increasingly challenging to align their various customer touch points (both online and offline) and deliver experiences that feed all the way up to their brand vision. The barriers that exist between marketing and other related disciplines, such as IT, product and customer service, only add to the complexity. This leaves a business that struggles to provide experiences with a consistent tone, and which is aligned with the brand. Marketers often voice their concern over the widening gulf that exists between the senior business leaders and those on the ground who are in direct contact with their customers.

Digital disruption.

There is a palpable fear amongst brands that the proliferation of digital is increasingly going to disrupt their market. Many senior marketing leaders are asking, "What does the future look like?". Those in the utilities sector for instance, are looking at how the Internet Of Things and connected devices are going to change the way they deliver their services. Without the legacy of large, established businesses, these tech start-ups are able to enter new markets and swiftly adapt to address unmet customer needs.

Brand story telling in digital.

In order to address the change in customer behaviour in favour of digital technology, marketers have looked towards user-experience disciplines as a way of improving and optimising customer experiences. However, as digital becomes the primary (and often the only) brand touchpoint there is a need to convey the brand story as much as the function. Marketers are asking themselves how they can convey elicit an emotional response across their digital ecosystem, in much the same way as physical retail spaces.

If this change is so critical, what is holding these brands back, and what can be done to make transformation programmes a success?

Business transformation often happens in one of two scenarios. Either you have a truly progressive and visionary leader who is driving a customer centric agenda (e.g. Apple) or your back is up against the wall and it’s a choice of transforming or going under (e.g. Burberry).

In both situations the CEO and the Board can drive this agenda from the top down. Objections around team structure, ownership and process can be addressed head on without slowing down or deviating from the ultimate ambition of a business with its customers at its heart.

That said, there is a third scenario that is increasingly becoming the biggest driver for transformation. More often the transformation agenda is borne amongst senior marketers, usually where two teams feel there is more to be gained by aligning their objectives around their customers. They are likely to face objection from other parts of the business, fearful of what this means for them, their jobs, their teams and their resources. For good reason too – change is scary and the unknown is really scary.

So this begs the questions, how can agencies, like ourselves at Realise, help advance a customer centric agenda within these businesses? What can we do to help?

Firstly, accept that business reality trumps theory every time. When delivering a customer experience strategy, it’s all about the delivery and execution, and we must never lose sight of this.

In our experience, building a “coalition of the willing” has been incredibly effective. Working with two or more teams to deliver a strategic framework that underpins their output around a shared set of customer insights and objectives.

Brevity is absolutely key, and once this strategy is ready we immediately demonstrate its value to the business. This means developing a strategic framework and putting it to use against a live brief in 6 to 8 weeks. Why the speed? Well, have you seen anyone clamp a moving car? No?…exactly!

Realise believe in showing, not telling. Engaging others within the business to adopt a new mind-set requires evidence and not theory. The aim here is to use clear and concise metrics to convince stakeholders that there is much more to be gained by embracing the change, rather than defending the status quo.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” - Charles Darwin