Pay close attention to some of the biggest companies globally and you’ll witness the dawning of a new era. ‘The Age of The Customer’ is, in the real sense, upon us today. We are witnessing the rise of the empowered customer and it is this customer who is shaping business strategies with the expectation of consistent and very high-worth experiences that deliver immediate value. In the absence of this value, they move elsewhere. Choice, after all, lies in abundance.
Quite naturally, organizations want to evaluate how to turn this breed of customers of the digital age into brand advocates. Promotions and loyalty programs have managed to hold their attention for quite a while now. However, today, with the customer constantly window shopping, how can companies win these customers and turn them into lifelong advocates?
Acknowledging the mind shift
Dial the clock a couple of decades ago; it was the sales department that was mainly accountable for business outcomes. Then came the age of the internet when marketing took responsibility of the baton as well – applications and websites became essential marketing tools. Product and engineering teams became responsible for pushing the new products out of the door.
Today, however, it is these applications, the digital brochures of the past, that have now become the actual product. Everything around us today is a digital product irrespective of a vertical and it is the product that is the driver of the revenue. With the SaaS economy upon us, success comes only when you become product-led. Companies that have managed to make this transition are the ones that have continued to enjoy customer appreciation only because, today, the product itself has now become the competitive advantage.
In this product-led era, where customers are motivated solely by the product experience, continuously delivering on the experience front is the only way to success. As we move from the marketing led-era to the product led-era, controlling every touchpoint in the consumer’s journey, being able to react proactively to the needs of the customer, and delivering an elevated and consistent product experience only can drive customer retention. And, customer retention trumps customer lock-in since the latter no longer exists today and the former drives advocacy.
What matters most
The product-led era has made products more intuitive to use and easy to understand. This level of product dexterity is an inevitable by-product of the change in market dynamics and business evolution. But when all products are being designed such, what really drives customers to become adopters, and then, advocates? Probably the following things –
- The capability to go beyond the vanity metrics and actually be able to understand the customer journey
- To use data not just to validate but to drive product decisions
- To be able to interact with the customer directly to be closest to them
- Delivering memorable in-product customer experiences
- Enabling the customer with self-service, on-time, effective and relevant communication.
Along with this is the intuitive ability of the product itself to assess when a customer needs training and the capability to provide timely answers to queries and question in a device-agnostic manner.
Customer experience is the driver of this product-led economy. And with this focus, organizations can not only retain customers and turn them into brand advocates but also open new growth trajectories. Airbnb, for example, didn’t just create a portal to book hotels; it reinvented the entire travel experience. Dropbox, Netflix, Uber, Buffer, Zoom, Apple and its Genius Bars concept…the list of fast-growing enterprises leveraging the product and customer-centric approach to educate the customer despite having great, intuitive and feature-rich products shows the trajectory in which we are moving.
Scaling the complexity chasm
Turning customers into advocates seems especially harder in the B2B scenario. With higher complexities and a lot more at stake, both for the company and the customer, scaling the complexity chasm becomes a driver of product adoption. Having the tools to proactively engage with the customer at the right touch-point, providing the right onboarding experience, equipping them with the right information at the right time, having the capability to extend the product to service the needs of the customer with greater personalization contribute to customer advocacy.
Along with this is the capability to enable self-service by giving them access to a central knowledge repository that can be accessed anytime, anywhere in a device-agnostic manner, leveraging data to understand roadblocks, and providing training for the same intuitively complement the drive to turn users into advocates.
The connected economy ensures that we have a customer who knows her mind better than ever before. Software products today, thus, have to enable message reinforcement via cross-fertilization of campaigns and drive product usage by enabling a frictionless experience. Added to that are the expectations of immediacy and connectivity. Extending the product to deliver this connected customer experience becomes the secret sauce to driving customer advocacy. After all, when everything around you becomes connected, how you connect with the customer becomes everything.