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Keeping Pace With Customer Revolution

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The industrial revolution changed the way we did business completely: many likened the advent and subsequent wide spread adoption of computers a whole century later as a similar revolution. It should come as no surprise then that we are undergoing yet another upheaval in business: the proliferation of mobile, cloud and social technologies that is empowering the customer as never before.  

Take a look at some of the statistics: with close to 7 billion mobile subscriptions, there are as many connections as the world's entire population. 2.7 billion people or 40 per cent of the global population are online with about 1.4 billion active in social networks. Added to this, the Internet of Things is taking connectivity up from just mobile phones to our everyday objects. Most research bodies indicate anywhere between 50-75 billion web enabled devices by the year 2020 creating a universe of intelligence everywhere. 

Today customers can seamlessly move between the online and offline worlds demanding consistent information and uniform customer experience across platforms. A study by Vantiv (a US based payment processing and technology provider) shows that shoppers are increasingly blending multiple channels - while 61 per cent research an item online and then purchase in-store, another 35% see an item in-store, research the price on the smartphone and purchase online. 'Omnichannel capabilities' - the ability to synchronize the customer experience across a myriad channels is a much sought after trait in new age marketers to cater to this 'I want it now and I want it all' customer.

What's more, with cloud and mobile technologies taking center stage, the customer today is demanding that she play an active part in the production value chain. She is breaking traditional barriers to participate in ideation, conceptualization and indeed production of hyperpersonalized, make-for-me products and services. Corroborating the rise of the customer are crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo that are witnessing significant traction. As many as 50,000 projects have cumulatively raised close to $1 billion from interested individuals. We are undoubtedly moving into what many refer to as a 'sharing economy' or the 'new age of collaborative consumption'.

As marketers how do we keep pace with this customer revolution - how do we match this empowered customer stride for stride? Well to sum it up simply, marketing in the 21st century necessitates a new set of rules. It demands that marketers leave their comfort zones and rethink their marketing strategy to include technology. It also means marketers learn to marry the art and science of marketing and move from an activity focused approach to an outcomes focused approach.   

One of the foremost priorities of marketers today is the ability to leverage data for informed decision making which in turn entails understanding the role of Big Data and Analytics. While an unfamiliar territory for most marketers, this needs to quickly change. Sure enough a recent report from Forbes Insights   reveals that one of the most prominent and tangible benefits of data-driven marketing is a noticeable positive impact on how businesses are able to relate to their customers. Close to 50 per cent of the survey respondents claimed that they have seen demonstrable results in terms of greater customer loyalty, customer engagement and increases in the number of customers. The benefits are even more pronounced among companies with highly data-driven cultures compelling marketers across industries to up their tech and data quotient. Such is the growing importance of technology in the new marketing organization culture that according to a study by IT-ITeS industry body Nasscom and software firm SapientNitro, by the end of 2017, the CMO is predicted to buy more technology than the CIO (US $ 37 billion opportunity). 

The next thing marketers need to do is focus on contextualized customer experiences viz. up the personalization ante. One might argue that customers still prefer to closely guard their privacy and are unwilling for their personal data to be floating around in cyberspace. While that may be true to a certain extent, a study from Accenture  indicates that nearly two-thirds of online shoppers would trade increased privacy for more personalized offers from retailers, as long as they are given options on how their personal data is used. Marketers thus need to know their customers well enough to custom design a product/service mix that most appeals to them. Sometimes it even entails knowing them so well as to anticipate their next need. A case in point is how Apple sales staff is trained to size up customers who walk into the store. For example if the customer is a recent purchaser of the Macbook the sales personnel are aware of the kind of queries she may have and is able to offer appropriate guidance and quickly pull together the necessary resources to respond to her.  As we move into a world where boundaries keep blurring, marketers will have to create and amplify a consistent message and then orchestrate the conversation wherever they find the customer: online, mobile or in the store.

Last but not the least, marketers need to get more outcome focused.  A study conducted by SAP on the Growth CMO in conjunction with Human 1.0 and The CMO Club revealed that only one in five CMOs either pursued or was able to tie customer experience initiatives with specific financial objectives (increased profitability, increased revenue, increased customer lifetime revenue). Creating a bridge between content and commerce remains one of the biggest challenges for customer experience efforts across marketing organizations today.

To conclude, marketers need to realize that it is their customers who are at the center of the massive change taking place today. Once they accept that and learn to engage with them at all levels - even if this means letting go of deep rooted business fundamentals of the past - can they hope to not only survive but grow well beyond their loftiest dreams through this revolution.  

The author is CMO, SAP India

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