As I mentioned in my blog at the beginning of the year, print shops have made progress in terms of digital maturity. But customers demand more than just internal improvements.
Work processes have been digitized, workflows networked, and now efforts are underway to integrate these tools with digital offerings such as web shops, live chats, customer touchpoints, social media channels, mobile applications, etc. And why do all this? To make it as easy as possible for customers to buy products from us. And not just once, but as often as possible. In this context, two terms become relevant: Customer Journey and Customer Focus.
Not a switch to be flipped
Although the Customer Journey is perhaps more of a matter for printers who are online, the rest applies to everyone. Yet many companies still find it difficult to focus on both existing and potential customers without compromising. Admittedly, it’s not quite that easy either. It’s not about internal processes or setting up digital sales channels, it’s about providing the best possible experience for customers.
But assuming that there is an awareness of the need for stronger customer relations – then action should follow! Indeed, what we have experienced in recent years has been more of a lip service: It’s true that every printing company claims to be customer-oriented and to focus on the needs of its customers. But is that really the case? To be honest: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
„Technologies, products and business models come and go. Only one thing doesn’t change: the ability to build and maintain customer relationships over the long term. “ – Bernd Zipper
Nevertheless: Printing companies should also look from the inside out. Dealing with oneself is necessary for internal processes but does not necessarily lead to customer focus. And Customer Centricity is not a switch that can be flipped or left to a marketing automation tool. Customer Centricity: This may sound pompous, but first of all it has easily explainable reasons and secondly it will convince everyone of its necessity.
In the past, one knew their customers.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for customers to differentiate between products or services. Even in terms of quality, differences are becoming increasingly difficult to discern. This also applies in particular to printed products. But the real differences are in the customer experience, in customer dialogue and in customer relations. And it is undoubtedly a considerable skill to maintain a relevant and trusting dialogue with hundreds of customers.
In the past, you knew all your customers. Fritz, Ingo, the innkeeper or the doctor. You also knew their wishes, needs, preferences and background. In the increasingly digitalized and partly anonymous world (including online printing) this has become more difficult, especially as the number of points of contact have increased.
Moreover: In this digital economy, customers are initially limited to one IP address. They remain that way even if the addresses are not enriched with personal data. Without access to this data and without the ability to gain insight into customers from this data, customer centricity is not possible. Only afterwards will you know (as in the example above) who you are dealing with. This will become even more important as customer relationships become progressively more digital.
Not just a temporary management hype
Customer focus is therefore not just a temporary management hype. Customer centricity is a clear and unambiguous answer to the technology-related shift in the relationship between supplier and consumer. As a consequence, today the consumer has a power like never before. Social media, recommendation platforms, comparison services and other offers transform consumers into partners on an equal footing: Thus, customer centricity is also an answer to the increasingly fierce competition in the markets.
After all, companies operate in an environment in which innovations are chasing one another, in which circumstances are constantly changing and supposed competitive advantages can disappear rapidly. Technologies, products and business models come and go. Only one thing does not change: the ability to build and maintain customer relationships over the long term.
A perfectly designed customer experience not only requires analytical skills in interpreting data, optimally designed customer interfaces and the like, but also social capabilities. Nothing binds customers more strongly than committed, unbureaucratic and accommodating corporate behavior when things get tough. It is at this point that customers become regular customers who will recommend the services of a company to others.
Customer focus is a matter for the management
The task can only be solved, however, if digital transformation and customer centricity become a top priority. Otherwise, customer centricity remains an empty promise.
Yet so far, the topic has usually been anchored in areas of the company that have been established but that are not really taken seriously. There is (if the situation arises) a CDO (Chief Digital Officer) who has to deal with trench warfare between individual departments and old-fashioned structures and who, in addition to many other tasks, is supposed to deal with the customer experience. It cannot work like that. That is why such a role belongs on the executive floor.
Of course, (especially young) people who have adapted customer centricity and digitalization as a mindset are increasingly moving into management positions and questioning whether the company is focusing on its customers or whether it is again focusing on itself or technology. But there are still too few. Corresponding changes in corporate philosophy could make the role of a CDO obsolete in the medium to long term. After all, the mindset should become a matter of course – not only in the management, but among all employees.
Digitization (and the new form of customer relations that it necessitated) had a beginning, but apparently no end. Neither do projects that are eventually completed, but rather the mindset that has internalized the new way the business world works.
Data driven does not mean data hungry
Now back to customer centricity, which is usually understood as the consistent orientation of the company towards the wishes and needs of the customers. This is correct, but it does not go far enough. Customer centricity means the relationship with the customer itself. And in the future this will be more important than the product offered. Companies that only cling to their products or services will sooner or later be overrun by data-driven competitors who make customer relationships the core of their business model.
But please do not misunderstand: Data-driven is not the same as the insatiable hunger for data as a result of ongoing digitalization, including in customer relationships. Spying on customers is certainly the worst solution. Customer centricity is only a sensible strategy if it is based on transparency, fairness, respect and appreciation for the customer.
My Take: The customer is king – as it was always invoked in the past – is no longer enough today. Customer focus is a strategic issue. This is often forgotten. It cannot be delegated to marketing, simply because this is where the metrics for customer satisfaction or customer loyalty are recorded. Customer centricity is a strategy that must be deeply rooted in the business model, corporate culture, organizational structure and customer interfaces. Anyone who optimizes processes but does not tailor them to customer needs will feel the effects. Customers recognize this fact quickly. Therefore: Thinking from the customer’s point of view is mandatory. After all, the customers are the most important people in the company.