We are living in a rapidly changing world. Business, as usual, is being disrupted on a regular basis by new offerings from players like Amazon. Armed with significant data, these companies are able to exploit gaps in the status quo customer experience. Read more about the gaps between what customers expect and what brands provide.
More than ever, companies are searching for ways to unlock a differentiating customer experience. Sometimes they try new innovations that can change entire business models, other times it may simply involve improving levels of service or finding more convenient ways to offer solutions.
It’s not uncommon for managers to have difficulty figuring out what business they are really in. These disruptive models are focused on customer experiences that are seamless and personal. They deliver unprecedented utility for consumers by harnessing data and feedback.
Why is it that some consumers will pay up to twice the price for a dozen eggs? Because stores like Whole Foods sell cage-free eggs. These are eggs provided by chickens in a natural habitat and this appeals to a core value of their customers.
There is probably little to no difference in the taste or texture of these eggs when they are consumed, yet a store is able to sell a commodity, like eggs, for a substantial premium by aligning values with their consumers.
And if all this isn’t enough, there is now discussion on who should build the future car. Hint, it may not be one of the traditional car manufacturers. Several software empires have market valuation that would allow them to purchase several current auto manufacturing companies.
Simon Sinek’s now famous TED talk describes the impact of what he calls the Golden Circle. He posits that most companies sell what they do but don’t really know why they do it. Companies that know why they do what they do have an advantage over others that don’t.
At the risk of stating the obvious, companies that want to unlock a differentiating customer experience have to think differently. They must be customer focused. Being customer focused requires adaptability.
Adaptability: Unlocking The New Competitive Advantage
Five years ago a couple of authors wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review predicting adaptability would be a competitive advantage for brands that were able to:
- Read and react to signals
- Manage complex multi-company systems
We have consumer packaged goods companies practicing agile marketing, and books proclaiming that the marketers of today will have to be technology experts in order to be effective.
How do you unlock this new advantage?
I believe there are 3 important keys.
Closing consumer expectation gaps requires the alignment of all stakeholders around the unique value proposition of the organization. Sharing a common purpose fuels intrinsic motivation and inspires connection and engagement. We have always known that buying is an emotional, not a rational decision.
More than ever consumers care about the values of the brands they support. Brands recognize they must tell compelling stories that appeal to the values of their constituents. It’s no longer enough to simply identify the features and benefits that provide utility, consumers want to feel good about the products and services they use.
Alignment isn’t accidental; it requires careful and watchful stewardship. Once the values are defined they must be constantly and consistently embedded into the DNA of the organization so there is absolute clarity around the mission and purpose of the organization. These values then become the guiding principles for behaviors across the organization.
Differentiating connections with consumers are dynamic; the continually evolving landscape constantly offers new and different options. Many organizations are finding it necessary to transform their business models in order to stay close to the customer.
These new models promote cross-functional collaboration, experimentation, and close contact with customers. Organizations are placing increasing value on creative problem-solving. Traditional structures required lengthy specification, development and deployment procedures; typically these aren’t flexible enough to keep up with changing customer needs. Often projects would have to be re-engineered before being released because business needs to be changed during the development process.
Now companies are recognizing the need for rapid prototyping, evaluating, testing and deploying. Companies now use techniques like Sprints, to constantly find ways to make the customer experience more compelling.
Agility and innovation require a different mindset and culture. Top management has to support and encourage collaboration because decision making authority needs to be close to the customer in order to be effective and relevant.
The culture of the organization has to provide an environment that:
- invites open and rapid feedback
- embraces learning and development
- tolerates failure
- consistently models values at all levels
- builds trust
- promotes diversity
- recognizes the need to invest in activities and training
Engaged employees are the key to success. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink identifies three core motivational attributes:
Values-based leadership builds and nurtures an environment that combines all three attributes producing employees that are engaged and contributing to the success of others. Here are 7 questions that can help create healthy engagement.
Most important, leaders must set and clearly articulate the mission and purpose of the organization. Values-based organizations spend significant time and resources finding, hiring, and developing their employees.
Once there is a clear mission and purpose, leaders must be willing to make investments in training and support. Innovation takes time. If staffing levels dictate heavy workloads, no level of training can overcome the burden of too much work.
If your organization is not actively practicing values-based leadership and interested in learning more about it check out innerwill.org.
In an agile world, marketing is all about the customer experience and this experience is everyone’s responsibility. As I stated earlier, entire business models are being disrupted. Consumers are increasingly part of a larger ecosystem of networked options that offer seamless or near-seamless experiences.
Organizations are now creating cross-functional teams tasked with identifying and designing customer solutions, often in near real time.
The new model is:
- identify an opportunity or challenge
- design a prototype
- get feedback then continue to test the idea
If it is successful roll it out if not shut it down quickly, analyze the learnings and move on to the next event.
These teams often have direct contact with customers. As a result of direct customer feedback and rapid prototyping, companies have dramatically reduced the innovation timeline. These changes don’t have to be extraordinary, often simple adjustments in the process can significantly improve the customer experience.
Teams are having to learn new ways of operating. Companies are recognizing the need for equipping their employees with training and support to help them deal with new challenges of working on smaller teams with members from different disciplines. There is the need for functioning in environments that are more uncertain.
In addition to the obvious benefits outlined in the 3 keys I listed above, all stakeholders benefit in other ways. Companies that innovate regularly tend to have more engaged employees because of the aligned values that lead to trust and empowerment. When employees are engaged they are often more focused on serving the customer and each other. Feedback strengthens internal and external connections. Diverse teams learn how to communicate more effectively and this has definite benefits when these groups interact with partners and customers.
Another benefit is transparency. Cross-functional collaboration, constant feedback, and failure can strain the best relationships. Organizations that provide a climate of innovation and creativity have to establish significant levels of trust. It turns out that customers appreciate transparency and will usually commit to a brand they trust.
The thought of moving toward an agile company may feel daunting. Consider starting by identifying a challenge or opportunity that would make your customer’s experience a better one. Here’s a way to leverage a team to increase social selling. Recruit some volunteer help from other groups and form an interdisciplinary team. Then charge them with identifying some potential solution ideas. Allow them to test these.
Think about your customer’s values. Why do they do business with you? What does your organization provide that others don’t? If possible, ask customers or prospects directly. Consider engaging an outside resource to facilitate some ideation sessions. Many creative problem-solving tools and techniques are familiar; however, it’s often useful to have a neutral resource to help facilitate the process.
What are some other ideas?