For years, marketers preached that the customer was king. In reality, customer-centred design submitted to distribution; mechanical limits on production and delivery set firm parameters on what the customer could purchase and possess. But that is all changing, rapidly. Now, living in a world of once-unimaginable connectivity and personalisation, customers are dictating the pace, variety, and quality of service. What once seemed an empty prophecy is being fulfilled – the customer is now king.
Retailers appreciate this shift in power and are now moving to remodel themselves around the customer. For some, this change is a shift in focus, a subtle reorientation. But for most, delivering on the customers’ expectations has required seismic restructuring and the establishment of core, data-driven capabilities. There is now a clear mandate for a new breed of marketing professional who acts creatively atop a platform of actionable data intelligence.
Connect Media along with Zendesk gathered a diverse group of leading retail executives to discuss this ongoing empowerment of the customer. Here is what they had to say.
We have never known more about customers. We can identify consumer touchpoints with specificity, mapping out a complex topography as the customer journeys along the path to purchase. But where there were once clearly delineated phases, the customer journey is now collapsing into a more fluid series of related exchanges.
The discovery phase is exploding as the integrated, online worlds we all inhabit have become a canvas for brands to project upon. These ecosystems are evolving into personalised, predictive interfaces; highly intuitive marketplaces that are effectively collapsing the search phase of the customer journey. Enriched media content is fast becoming the new site of purchase, with cash becoming obsolete as consumers advance to purchase with zero friction.
Acquisition too is evolving with tremendous momentum, with customer demands forcing innovation and prompting retailers to curate and deliver a range of flexible fulfilment options.
Relentless pressure from consumers for seamless interactions is resulting in a compression of the customer journey. Achieving this level of continuity is the practical key to a customer-centric system.
Marketers are turning their attention to curating experiences that reveal an intimate knowledge of, and respect for, their customers. More and more, we are seeing a fine balancing act between gathering data that informs better targeting and being cautious of overstepping into the private domain of customers’ lives.
Lush Cosmetics has a careful approach to this tight-rope act. Lush has adopted a deliberately non-aggressive data collection policy that prioritises transparency for customers in relation to how and where their data is used, reflective of the special relationship they aim to develop between staff and customers. This is, however, only one dimension of a much broader approach to customer engagement that centres on empowering employees to create a lasting and positive brand impression. By prioritising investment in staff in its stores around the world, and giving individual store managers the power to run their business as small business owners – with complete control over staffing and their bottom line – Lush employees are empowered to make business decisions in the best interests of their customers.
Physical stores are struggling to compete with the sheer convenience of e-commerce. Retail chains that continue to visualise their stores as a physical amendment to an online experience are missing a golden opportunity to create a sensory experience that is not yet possible in the digital world.
For Lush, while the rise of online shopping has improved ease of access and convenience for customers, the creation of a dynamic in-store experience, championed everyday by engaged staff, has allowed the brand to more effectively build lasting, long-term loyalty and relationships with customers.
Employees become brand ambassadors and rely on their passion and knowledge to curate a loyal community of customers that are connected not by demographic but by an allegiance to the shared experiences being created. In this way, the store becomes more than a shop front; it is transformed into a site of discovery and connection, a community.
Customer obsession has become a tidal force in marketing. The sheer weight of data being collected, integrated, and transformed into real-time actionable intelligence is allowing companies to respond to consumers at a lightning pace.
At the same time, this mass of data is being used to assess and scrutinise marketers, adding an unprecedented depth to accountable measures that risk burying the profession in a performance culture.
There is real concern that the weight of this data-driven consumer obsession is a path to customer submission, locking brands into a routine, call and response, pattern of reaction. As one attendee noted, ‘customers are not interested in actually telling brands what to do better; they’re actually, most of the time, finding most brands a necessary evil in their life’.
Marketers and the companies whose stories and identities they control need to strike a balance between short-term, performance-oriented action, and taking the creative risks that can come to define an organisation.
It is worth remembering that the largest and brightest brands in the world took a stand on what they believed and commanded as leaders to resonate with consumers. This license to act creatively and boldly, to lead and not react, is only granted on the back of demonstrated results.
The retail game is changing. Understanding consumers and their motivations, influences and inspirations is more crucial than ever.
As retail and consumers continue to evolve, the importance of engaging in continuous industry dialogue cannot be understated.
Leaders around Australia are realising that maintaining a technical knowledge of the changing trends, threats and solutions in the retail space bears heavily on corporate and personal success.
Zendesk and Connect Media will be continuing this series of executive conversation across Australia, empowering leading brands to lift consumer expectations.