The Rise of the Customer Curator
At The Retail Bulletin Customer Engagement Summit this week I sensed (in myself at least) a growing discomfort with the term 'customer'. I wondered was it 'conference fatigue' setting in but realised it has more to do with the acceleration in customer empowerment through technology - devices, applications and analytics - that is elevating (and rightly so) the position of 'customer' beyond the 'transactional'. The term customer just doesn't seem to cut it anymore. Today's retailer arguably knows more about a customer's path to connect, predilection for offers, incentives and their purchasing behaviours than at any previous point in history. At the same time, as Karl McKeever of Visual Thinking highlighted, this insight also proves how 'paradoxical and schizophrenic' customers are - they oscillate between brands, channels, choices. They have become curators of the experiences they want to have and the brands they want to engage with. This has huge implications in today's omni-channel consumer environment.
As the £millions get spent on Darwin and Tableau implementations and roll outs, it is clear retailers are handing more and more control of the conversation to the customer. In so doing, in the best examples at least, retailers are winning market share, they are proving that the 'multi-channel advantage' does exist. Graze is a perfect example where this niche player in wholesome snacks has turned its clicks to bricks, opened up a new frontier and become hugely successful in the process. Besides the 'gut' decisions they make according to Emma Heal, it is clear that a keystone of their success is the 'one conversation' psychology of omni-channel customer engagement. It matters that they are attentive and responsive on social media to that component of the customer conversation as much as the sales at the till.
What is also heartening is how the best use of the omni-channel 'customer conversation', and all the associated tech to deliver single customer view, ultimately frees the brand to engage in more direct, human, almost 'familial' customer dialogue. Joe McEwan from Innocent Drinks perfectly captured this in the many ways in which they have engaged with customers through unconventional and yet clearly highly entertaining marketing adventures in print, social media and video - but always ready to respond instantly to customer take up of the message, harnessing the power of virtual to driving brand awareness, customer acquisition and of course new revenues.
Catherine Woolfe from Collect+ further emphasises the 'human' aspect to great customer engagement when she explained the role of her business was to become the 'best loved' parcel delivery service to deliver not just parcels but 'freedom and convenience'. It was refreshing to hear how in their interviews for staff, the actually time how long it takes for a candidate to use the word 'customer'! It is how brands like Collect+ are now recognising this 'quality of life' extension as the ultimate benefit of what they sell/produce/offer that is so enlightening in a marketplace dominated by cold stats and outdated demographic terminology.
What I ultimately took away was a sense of 21st century excitement about the near-future opportunities for better and more profitable, indeed valuable -almost 'life affirming' customer engagement that omni-channel can offer. We are as far away today from CRM in the late 1990's as CRM was to 'half day closing' in the 1970's and while the technical and structural investment and resources needed to bring omni-channel online are daunting for any brand, the prize is now in sight. Customer elevation is worth it!
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