How the internet is killing customer centric companies

in Gilroy; marketing; age of the customer
by Peter Clayton
And why the modern customer is rarely right.
 
The Internet has changed the way customers are evaluating companies. When left to their own devices (those devices being laptops, tablets and mobiles) the search for information begins earlier than ever before and without you knowing when it starts, or what they are looking at. 
 
What was originally heralded as the age of information has actually become the age of speed-reading.
 
At the same time, the Internet has become nothing short of a brilliant stealth disguise for companies that couldn’t have competed with you previously. Almost overnight, market entrants became better equipped to challenge, crossing non-existent borders without having to arm themselves with the experience or credibility it took your company years to build. These people move fast and travel light.
 
What the Internet has been is a great leveller. Unfortunately, that levelling is akin to a bulldozer being driven through your physical assets, the same assets that helped build your reputation and gave you industry status. This includes confidence inspiring buildings, visible resource, hands on product demonstrations and early face-to-face meetings that the traditional buyer was once forced to experience prior to the ‘know it all now’ generation.
 
Recent research confirms how influential the Internet has become in the decision making phase of the buying cycle. The modern buyer is now anywhere between 60% to 75% through the information gathering phase - before they talk to you.
 
Rushing towards a Customer Centric approach based on their needs isn’t the answer. This is already too late. Being wholly centric to the customer is flawed because you’re reacting to a hungry buyer that has gorged on the wrong information, or at the very least, incredibly biased information from businesses that are not offering the same terms as you.
 
This is why the modern customer isn’t always right. How can they be when the source of their information is defective? It’s not even your information, so why respond to it as if it’s a customer need? It’s not a customer need, it’s a ransom demand. 
 
Surely this means that the content on your website should initially be of less interest to you than what’s on your competitors’ websites? What you know they are and what they say they are can be distinctly different. This is the arsenal from which customers are freely arming themselves. It’s a devastatingly effective negotiating weapon, wilfully aimed at you by the unknowingly ignorant. To be frank, what the customer wants at this stage is far less relevant than why the customer thinks the way they do at this stage that is critical.
 
You need to look beyond being Customer Centric to becoming Customer Obsessed. A centric approach effectively makes the most of inheriting a bad job. Obsession isn’t just a catchy new title for what you have and it doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious decision you make that elevates you above a customer centric approach and re-evaluates what you know. This mind-set sees the world purely through a customer’s eyes and uses that intelligence to reshape everything you do. It takes what you have and makes it far, far more relevant to a prospect and, in doing so, you become more competitive through greater empathy and understanding. The digital divide between buyer and seller closes.
 
Be competition centric by all means, but be customer obsessed. 
 
Customer knowledge is now your responsibility. Re-educate them correctly, and from that point on you should never be beaten without hard evidence; something the Internet excels at omitting.
 
If you can understand why your customer thinks the way they do from the information they have seen, you can change how they think. This is the way to challenge the flawed conclusions they’ve reached in an uncontrolled buying process. 
 
Where do you start? Shift the process back and start a lot earlier. Don’t consider your own plans laid until you have analysed to death what your competitors are actually saying to potential customers - which can differ hugely from what they actually offer. Map your defences against this, unearth the flaws that suggest any advantage over you, and then attack them using your own benefits skewed towards specific points. 
 
Make the customer interrogate what they read far harder. Unearth a lack of resource, the cheaper material, the shorter warranty or fewer services competitors offer. Compare, and in doing so, prove that you are incomparable.
 
If you genuinely have the upper hand, turn it around totally, tell the customer and let them beat your competitors for you. And don’t just settle for putting the boot on the other foot. It’s up to you to find the right size and style, and tie the laces.
 
At Gilroy, we’ve been thinking ahead of dramatically changing markets for 35 years. We know that we make a huge difference to our customers, their reputations and their bottom line. This is why companies with a market worth of over $438 billion trust us to think ahead for them.
 
If you’re really serious about customers, and we mean really, really serious, then our extensive process, the depth of services we offer and the almost subterranean exploration we engage in will benefit you enormously. It pretty much always comes with an unexpected benefit too: our services normally come absolutely free. 
 
No, that’s not a marketing gimmick, just an accounting fact. The ROI we generate when set against our fees is stacked well in your favour. This way we both win – and your competition lose.