Business woman talks on her phone in a restaurant.
As a conference speaker, I have access to some pretty accurate barometers on the perceived importance of the customer experience. I know that it’s a more popular conference theme than it was five years ago. ‘Customer centricity’ and its various alliterations seem to be a strategic focus for organisations across nearly every industry. There is a distinct and renewed interest in the customer experience. Some of that interest is driven by a genuine understanding of the business and financial implications. But there are other powerful technological and social forces at play leaving many businesses without a choice.
C2B – The New Balance of Power
Business models are no longer simply Business-to-Consumer (B2C) or Business-to-Business (B2B). The digital revolution has seen the balance of power swing firmly back to the customer, away from the corporates that have dictated the terms of trade and communication since the industrial revolution.
As consumers — and business customers for that matter — we now choose how, when (and often where) we buy a
product or service. We no longer have to drive to the DVD store and comb the shelves in the hope of finding something we like (and that’s available). We can access the content we want on demand from the comfort of our own home. Same with music, books and other digital content. The path to purchase is no longer driven by brands and their marketing messages; it’s dictated by consumer interest and demand.
We are not only enjoying a greater level of choice of products, we’re enjoying a greater level of choice in how we consume those products. The rise in the sharing economy and brands such as AirbnB and Uber is providing greater value to consumers and challenging the traditional model of supply and demand. In a world where we often rely solely on real-world customer reviews in making a purchase decision, the days of the big budget advertising campaigns to influence consumer perceptions are over.
Collaborative consumption has so far revolutionised two major industries and we will continue to see these challenger models sweep across other sectors and shake the establishment. Consumer choice, and the transparent demonstration of the customer experience, is winning out over conventional corporate influence.
Once e-commerce arrived, the importance of the customer experience became apparent almost instantly. The web created an environment where consumers could make an instant judgment on their shopping experience. Switching brands no longer involved walking out of a store and heading to a competitor across town. With a few clicks, we can ‘leave’ a store and buy from a competitor that better services our needs.
Another dynamic impacting the customer experience is that today’s consumer is more educated than ever. This has dramatically altered the retail sector in particular, where a growing number of consumers walk into a store knowing more about the product or service they’re considering purchasing than the staff member serving them. Today’s consumer is armed with knowledge, has a firm understanding of comparative value and, as a result, has higher expectations than ever before.
This means that the role of a retailer today is less about product and service education and more about customer engagement.