Customers in the Driver’s Seat
Customer relationships have become the bread and butter of management in general and marketing in particular for many businesses. Disparate transactions treated individually one at a time are often not enough to keep a business thriving for long. Furthermore, transactions have to be linked between one another and be connected as much as possible to each customer that performs them. Repeat purchases by a customer and knowing the customer are not new concepts — but the means for maintaining and managing relations with customers are changing, and that is true in relations between business enterprises (B2B) as well as between businesses and end-consumers (B2C).
There is still place for person-to-person interactions, but businesses rely to a greater extent on technological and digital means — data, tools and methods — to assist them in managing those relationships. Any business that sells to or serves consumers directly (e.g., from a local shop to a chain store, a service provider) needs to develop relationships with the consumers to keep them as customers in the long run. Even manufacturers of consumer goods make the effort to form relationships with end consumers, whether engaging in direct marketing (selling) or not. The mode by which interactions between businesses and consumers take place, physically (offline) or digitally (online / mobile), is just a matter of means-to-end towards productive and beneficial relationships for both parties.
The business narrative on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Relationship Marketing (RM) regularly uses expressions like “customer-centric” or “the customer comes first”. However, these expressions do not seem to reflect adequately how strongly influential customers have become to-date in their relations with the businesses from whom they buy products or services. The matter of fact is that more frequently the customers are in the driver’s seat.
Consumers as customers are more critical, sometimes less patient, but most importantly are better informed than before and are seeking to have their say about the relationships they have with small to large businesses — this may entail the fit of products or services offered to their needs and preferences, and how, where and when they can get them.
Moreover, if they are not satisfied or feel they are not listened to sufficiently, consumers turn to online social media platforms to share their observations and reservations about their experiences as customers.
Nonetheless, consumers also spread the word about positive and pleasant experiences and suggest recommendations to peers, family relatives and friends. Hence, businesses have to be much more attentive, listen to and address what their customers have to say in one-to-one direct interactions and in public forums.
Brands and customers go hand in hand — the brand is a vehicle, the customer is a destination to reach, in developing a relationship with him or her. Companies should not replace the brand with the customer or put one before the other as their strategic focus because all too often the road to the minds and hearts of consumers still goes through a brand.
Customer Experience (CX) is at the heart of a relationship built between a company or brand and its customers. Attitudes, attachment and loyalty develop around the experiences of customers over time. Product features and benefits also translate into experiences which increasingly come to matter the most to consumers.
In the context of customer relationships, ‘customer experience’ does not refer strictly to a single event of interaction between the company or brand and the customer — a flow of multiple such events, of various types through physical and virtual touch-points, make-up the experience of every journey and the relationship as a whole. Yet the experience in any single event could contribute positively or negatively to the relationship. Hence, each experience — in any form and channel of encounter — matters to some extent.