Time was that cash, and the costs of getting it, was king. It’s still important, but the digital disruptors are proving that customer experience is the heir apparent.
They are looking at existing supply of, and demand for, goods and services, and working out ways of meeting those needs in such a way that people are prepared to pay for it. Obviously, there’s nothing particularly “digital” about these very traditional market forces. The new element – now a market force of its own – is the digitised consumer. Instantaneous, globalised and mass digital information flows means that customers are increasingly used to getting the product or service they want, when and how they want it (even if they didn’t know this until the idea was suggested to them).
And the hard part of this, for existing businesses who are already working hard to meet the needs of the business and also provide products and services that their customers have seemed happy to pay for (and perhaps still are, for now), is that the new digital consumer has little or no loyalty to a business that doesn’t deliver what is wanted, now.
A complete and thorough assessment of the customer experience your business delivers, and then taking steps to solve whatever issues you find, could be expensive and time consuming. It can also be hard to assess, and particularly if it’s you judging your own business. Take an example: You’ve been wearing the same the glasses for years - you like them and no-one has said they were bad. It could be challenging if all your friends, who when you asked them, and who were told to be honest, said they were unflattering. So you take a leap of faith and change them. In doing so, you realise a different haircut and new clothes are needed also. Some would label such a makeover as “unnecessarily expensive” – others describe it as “transformational”.
The disruptors are all about transformation of the customer’s experience when buying or using a product or service, or both. Customers are prepared to pay for something they actually want - and do not need to limit themselves to what existing businesses are willing to provide. And in this world where customers demand (and are increasingly able to get) the best and latest, from anywhere, and preferably in a “connected” way, there are big returns available for those who can meet these desires. There are whole industries out there working hard to find these opportunities. The nature and extent of the disruptor phenomenon to date would indicate that every business is ripe for challenge.
Assuming you do, actually, believe that there is commercial benefit in offering customers what they actually want, and that your business is at risk of disruption, some obvious questions would seem to be:
· Do you have a clear picture, judged by customers not by you, of the sort of experience are you delivering to your customers?
· Can your customers get the product you are offering, where and when they want it?
· Is the user experience of your product as good as the experience delivered elsewhere, in the world? Is there a better user experience for products or services that your customer will “bracket” you with (eg, my electricity supplier can do that why can’t my Telco?)
· Could additional information, or social media, provide a richer product or service offering?
· If your product is a physical thing, is it “network connected”? (What assumptions are you making about your customer and how your product or service is provided? Could an automated feedback loop assist in testing these assumptions? could connectedness help you make your customers' use of your product or service easier and at the same time enable you to sell more?)
· Is there a significant time lag between when a customer buys your product, and when it is delivered to them?
· Do you charge customers for information?
There’s obviously a risk to this exercise. You might not like what you find. You might think you can’t afford the time and cost of conducting the exercise, and then (assuming you have the appetite) the time and cost of undertaking whatever transformational work needed at the end of the review. And after all of that, there is always the risk that someone else has beaten you to it. But it's definitely not all bad. The mass digitisation of customers is also a massive sales opportunity for those whose businesses are prepared.
Getting prepared is now the game. Businesses who want to succeed in the digital age need to adapt to the new environment or risk dying, and perhaps be willing to die trying.