As we enter the digital, customer-centric era for business, a shift from the inside-out model to the outside-in is essential. Let me explain. Previously, businesses have typically done their own R&D, built products and eventually offered them to the outside world. Today and tomorrow’s ‘products’ (or should we say services or perhaps ‘apps’?) will come from a wide variety of sources. Businesses will not have, nor will want, the luxurious development cycles of the past.
The balance of power has swung from providers of communications and IT, through the hands of the device manufacturers, into the hands of the applications and content developers and owners, and sometimes further, into the hands of customers themselves. Isn’t this the way an economy should be, with equilibrium between demand and supply?
For a business striving to be customer centric, the flows of product and customer feedback need to reflect the new, mobile, social culture of the customer. That is not to say that retail outlets and call centers aren’t needed – they certainly are – but they must be an integrated part of each provider’s ‘omnichannel’ strategy. Every means of interaction with customers needs to look and feel the same, and customers must be able to move between the various channels seamlessly, at will. Put another way, all communications with customers need to be on their terms, not what suits the business.
Many so-called products sold in the past will become embedded in a broader product or bundle of services taken by an individual, household, business or government department. In some ways this is an expansion of channels to the customer. The good news is that if companies are smart about offering self-service and self-care, through greatly increased automation, then many customers will be only too happy to use them. This brings three big benefits to the company. First it saves the company money, effort and time. Second tracking customers across the omnichannel provides the business with an unprecedented amount of intelligence, through analytics, about customers, hence marketing and product design have gold to work with.
Third, the social explosion means that your customers can find solutions to their problems from peers – there are lots of people happy to help others. Embrace this source of problem solving, and even reward the people who offer their input free of charge, to make your customers happy.