Are you meeting your customers where they are? This is the underlying principle behind customer-centricity, where we often fall short even when saying the right words.
I learned about the need for customer-centricity when I performed a B2B study in 2013. Respondents rated various attributes for their importance when they evaluated vendors. Ten attributes were selected, including obvious ones like price and product functionality.
On a lark, we threw in an attribute I dubbed “Vendor as a Good Partner” (VGP) because there seemed to be an emerging awareness of the value of collaborative relationships — planning and problem solving in concert.
On a scale of one to 10, low to high, we learned that VGP scored 9.0 in importance, second only to product functionality, which scored 9.4. Since that time, similar studies have confirmed that VGP is always a top attribute and never lower than third.
More significant, when the decision is close as to which vendor to select, VGP settles the tie. Across industries, we’ve seen that close calls happen half of the time.
Often clients find the importance of VGP both surprising and inconvenient. “What do I do with this?” is a frequent response. It is especially tricky if you have been reared on analytics because VGP feels soft.
From my vantage point, though, VGP is not soft but timeless. My most recent study, completed seven years after the first, confirmed the same findings.
VGP remained near the top at 9.5, second only to product functionality (9.7). Even during the time of COVID-19, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
With this in mind, I recently interviewed 20 senior managers to get their take on customer-centricity. How are they planning to meet changing customer needs in the post-COVID-19 world? Managers responded by identifying the following factors as the focal point for pressing the reset (listed by frequency of mentions):
— Increased parity between customers and vendors: As one manager said, “We will embrace collaboration like never before.” Customers will expect collaboration to take many forms, from jointly planning product roadmaps to flexible pricing models, to risk-sharing and performance assurances. Parity is VGP, only turbocharged. While the implications may be frightening, respondents recognize this as critical for their success.
— Transforming business processes in an increasingly virtual world: Respondents believe that “virtual” will dominate the landscape. Reasons cited include safety precautions, cost reduction and increased confidence that “Virtual actually works,” as one manager said. The challenge will be building and maintaining high-quality relationships from afar. There is no choice.
“We will figure it out because we have to,” said one manager. Between improved virtual technologies, better remote working skills, and an expanded value offering, managers believe they can build sustainable relationships. Along the way, every business process will get scrutiny and possible revamping.
— Touchless transactions: A cashless world awaits, necessitating an enhanced business portal for many businesses. While this is old news for some, portals with electronic payment routing, e-verifications and other transactions will become omnipresent.
— Enhanced Analytics: Whether it is building new efficiencies that are shared downstream, or using predictive data in bigger and better ways, vendors will focus on extending their value to customers. Analytics might also help assure customers of preparedness in areas like cybersecurity — or heaven forbid — another pandemic.
Managers shared how they are already acting on these evolving customer expectations to prepare for the future. Examples include:
— Supply channels undergoing reconstruction to reduce risks going forward.
— A customer visit center being upgraded to enable a complete virtual experience, thereby eliminating the need for travel. It will be “additive” in allowing customers to engage with experts worldwide.
— Platform technology being upgraded for expanded analytics and improved virtual capabilities. Preparedness will also get a boost here.
— Marketing getting a facelift and expanded terrain. Can lightly branded educational webinars be an active sales experience? TBD.
The managers surveyed are in the thick of battle but feeling somewhat positive. When asked to rate the confidence in their business post-COVID-19 (scale of one to 10, low to high), the score averaged 8.3. Given the layoffs, furloughs, budget cuts and new complexities in doing business, this seemed like welcome news.
My takeaway? The secret sauce of believing in a business’s future starts with meeting customers where they are — and recognizing that they are not in the same place pre-pandemic. There will be trial and error, hits and misses, no doubt. But along with that comes a feeling of being empowered through better listening and aligning with market needs.
It might just be what the doctor ordered to reinforce our faith in the future.