The consumer: your best friend and your worst enemy
2013 was the year of customer centricity. When every product becomes a commodity, the only thing left to invest in is the customer relationship. It is great to see and feel the change in mentality that companies around the world exhibit towards their customers. More than ever, I see companies that are willing to change their stance on â€˜customer first’ attitude. Of course, such a change in mentality doesn’t just happen overnight. It is a process, it’s a journey. And for most companies with a changed attitude towards their customers, the ride will be a bumpy one.
2014 is the year we will distinguish between two types of customer relationships. We will treat our customers as a good friend, but we will also find that some customers have become fierce competitors.
The customer as our best friend
There is no alternative to the customer-centric approach. The competition is cutthroat. Customer loyalty is melting like snow before the sun and differentiating through products is harder than ever. Customer centricity is key to keeping your business afloat.
Many companies have entered phase 1 of their customer centricity program. Phase 1 is convincing and changing the front-end employees of this need. Customer service employees, sales people, commercial people, general managers and the like are often easily convinced. These are the kind of people who meet clients and who understand the power of a positive customer relationship.
To become truly customer-centric, 2014 will have to be the year you convince the back office. Maximum customer centricity cannot be achieved without the support of your back office. Employees working on invoicing, facility management and ICT play a crucial role in this process. Once you obtain their buy-in, the road to customer centricity will become a lot smoother.
The customer as our worst enemy
There is no alternative to the customer-centric approach but beware: your customer may become your next competitor. Just look at what happened in the photography business. My parents had a small photography store so I had a front row seat to the drama. In the golden age of photography, most parents called upon a professional photographer to take pictures of their children’s first communion â€“ certainly in Belgium. A few years down the road this tradition has gone out the window. Due to the improved quality of amateur cameras, the arrival of digital cameras and user-friendly programs like Photoshop, everybody is now a photographer. The golden age ended just like that. My parents were not losing business to competitors; it’s the customers that stole their business. The same process is taking place in the catering business. In the nineties, serving your guests catered food was considered trendy. It was fancy. Today it is a sign of incompetence in the kitchen. The catering business’s biggest competitor is the customer. And the same thing is happening in the travel industry (AirBnB), financial industry (eToro) and the media industry (YouTube). Think about what 3D printing could mean to your market. What will happen if all of your clients own a 3D printer?
Chances are that every industry will soon face a new competitor: their own clients. Monitor small initiatives within your industry. Take small initiatives seriously. Five years ago, no one in the travel industry took AirBnB seriously. Today they fill more room nights than the Hilton Group. Big things have small beginnings, as they say. By following up on these small initiatives, you may be able to play a role in the initiative. Fighting the customer competitor is very difficult. The travel industry is trying to fight AirBnB through legal channels. History tells us the travel industry is fighting a losing battle. Remember what happened to the music industry? The industry was able to fight off the first wave of competitors in court before being annihilated by iTunes. Join and help the customer competitors instead of trying to fight them. Don’t fight them and live to fight another day.