Customer centricity in the real world

The Millennial generation has grown up with information technology and they expect their interactions with Business to Consumer (B2C) IT systems, whether sales or service focused, to consistently deliver top-quality customer service experiences. More so than previous generations, they are both heavily marketed to by brands and very brand conscious; they tend to group together and follow the latest trends. As such, companies today would be wise to tailor their offerings to address the expectations of Millennials, as they are the next generation of customers.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that many of the decision makers in the enterprise space are in the latter halves of their working life, and except for a few visionary early adopters they are neither Millennials nor do they think like them. So how should mature corporate decision makers address the needs of their customers, many of whom they don’t really understand? This is not a new problem, but the advent of pervasive information technology that Millennials know and love has added another dimension to the situation.

Understanding different demographics
While many senior citizens, for whom personal computers arrived too late, may still prefer a written letter sent via mail, the advent of smart devices, especially tablets like the iPad, has given them access to information technology that they and other demographics are embracing. For example, in a family group, children and teenagers may prefer to interact via Facebook and mobile apps; their parents may prefer email and websites but also use apps; and their grand-parents may utilise a combination of traditional means and new technologies. And of course, there are many people who just don’t get on with technology at all, or simply prefer face-to-face interactions.

Ensuring that the needs of each demographic are met is of course addressed through customer segmentation; with a 360 degree view of each individual and segmentation by demographic. And because not everyone fits perfectly into one segment, the ability to adapt and personalise where appropriate is crucial. But customer segments are constantly changing and it can become prohibitively expensive just to look at this as a marketing-led initiative. There has to be automation and industrialisation; and most importantly, consumer-facing business systems must be built with each customer in mind.

Building better B2C IT systems
When designing a B2C IT system, do key decision makers really know what they want and what will meet the needs of their customers? Or are they simply following what other people are already doing, and adjusting it to fit their individual needs? A better design has the power to drive continuous improvement and promote innovation – but only if it is not just ‘fit for purpose’, but able to adapt and flex to both business and customer demands that are constantly changing. There are some basic principles that should be taken into account with any B2C IT system:

  • Customer Centricity: The best systems are those that revolve around the end-user and deliver an enhanced customer experience. They appear externally to look at things from the customer’s viewpoint, i.e., “as a customer, I want to do X”.
  • Intuitive Ease of Use: Have you ever noticed that the best products and systems are those that you don’t need an instruction manual for? They just work the way you expect them to! Good design comes from thinking through what a user will most likely want to do with a solution and how easy it will be for them to use, before implementing it.
  • Innovation and Continuous Improvement: Grand words, but hard to implement in practice. Innovation occurs when a good idea gets implemented. Staying fresh is hard to do, but is critical in order to retain and attract market share. But there are ways to solicit feedback and ideas for improvement. For example, systems which started out as simple ranking and rating functions are now being enriched through gamification principles. B2C IT systems that can adopt and leverage customer insights accordingly will deliver real consistent value over time.

Planning for tomorrow, not just for today
This drive to improve and implement innovative B2C IT systems is all taking place against a backdrop of commoditisation in the enterprise space. The demand for cost reduction has led to standard platforms usually being preferred to more innovative niche providers. But those standard platforms need to address the principles above. How do you create customer-centric platforms that can be personalised and that can evolve, while at the same time remain ‘standard’ to some extent? The challenge for solutions providers is to ensure that B2C IT systems are designed in such a way that they adapt and endure, incorporating real-time segmentation and focused on customer centricity.

Application platforms should not only work exceptionally well today but have a roadmap to the future. They need to become appreciating assets, which grow in value. On a final note, providers must build systems that can both harness innovation from the masses using techniques like crowd sourcing, as well as being able to easily adapt and evolve in line with corporate strategy and regulatory environments. A lot of people talk about transformation in the IT context, but transformation on its own is not enough. IT evolution has to be the Holy Grail of enterprises, as they strive to remain relevant, competitive and dominant.