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  • NETMEDIA International

[Tribune] The 5 ages of customer maturity

From a token action to a change of culture: how to gain customer maturity? Nicolas Regallet and Bertrand Destailleur, consultants at EQUANCY, Strategy Department.

2019: 62% of customers perceive that they are treated like numbers, not people. 2021: 67% of French executives say their companies will change the way they engage and interact with their customers. In the meantime, containment and social (and commercial...) distancing have passed. Above all, this crisis has served as a wake-up call. 1st revelation: the ability to get in touch with one's customers is a tremendous lever for resilience and growth. 2nd revelation: being in touch is no longer enough. To make a difference, the entire company must be customer-oriented, customer-centric, customer-obsessed! In fact, "customer-centricity" is no longer defined as optimizing processes, setting up a "customer experience" department or investing in customer programs.

A new frame of reference where all the dimensions of the company (network, digital, product, supply chain, human resources...) are concerned: a real cultural transformation! However, if many companies claim to be customer oriented, very few actually implement it... It is only once it has been announced that customer orientation is implemented. To do this, it is essential to define and implement a "customer trajectory" that follows 5 ages of maturity with, at each age, a specific objective, organization and characteristics.

Age 1: INTEREST, or how to solve customer annoyances with quick wins

The genesis of customer orientation often begins with an awareness of the importance of the customer within the company through the excessive use of customer service or the systematic and massive reporting of a customer irritant (incomprehensible waiting time, need to re-explain the problem through several channels or different contacts, lack of consideration for the customer's "status"...) At this stage, the company seeks to reduce complaints, "erase irritants" and shut down dissatisfaction. The company is in a "problem-solver" posture. It implements reactive - and often symbolic - actions to improve satisfaction, reduce attrition or boost customer commitment.

On pense ici, à la " Ligne Bleue " mise en place dans les supermarchés Carrefour.

1°/ Phase 1, detection of an irritant: the long waiting time before reaching the checkout staff (30% of customers give up a purchase because of a long wait at the checkout4 ).

2°/ Phase 2, search for a solution: open other checkouts to make the waiting line more fluid.

3°/ Phase 3, media coverage of the solution: produce a "blue line" advertising spot to promote the importance of customer well-being in Carrefour supermarkets.

Age 2: INVESTMENT, or how to implement a "customer project" to solve a problem or seize an engagement opportunity.

This is the age when the company invests in human and financial resources to implement customer programs. Contrary to the previous age, there is a position within the company thanks to a dedicated organization and associated resources. The company then focuses on defining and designing a new customer experience, designing a new customer program or building (or redesigning) its loyalty program. To illustrate this age, let's take the example of Look Voyages which has set up a real satisfaction management program. The starting point? A simple observation: customers who go through the customer service after their stay (complaint, claim, request for compensation...) have a higher rate of re-purchase than customers who do not go through the customer service. The recipe? Listening to and considering the customer. By implementing a systematic program to handle and respond to customer complaints, the re-purchase rate of "a priori dissatisfied" customers was multiplied by 2 vs. customers who did not contact customer service5.

Age 3: IMPLICATION, or how to redefine internal processes towards more customer centricity.

This time, the company fully integrates this new approach and is no longer satisfied with isolated devices or actions as in ages 1 and 2. Customer transformation programs have appeared. These cross-functional programs break down silos, build bridges within the organization, aggregate available data at key stages of the customer journey, monitor the "voice of the customer", and monitor the correlations between satisfaction and Customer Life Time Value. The company's employees are involved and integrated into the customer ambition. This is the case at Carrefour, where the cashier teams report the comments and feedback they receive from customers, or the fact that the bonuses of managers and the CEO depend on the customer satisfaction rate7. Thus, we are no longer simply solving problems but redefining the company's internal processes: "I invite you to disobey as long as it is for the customer8 " , as the former General Manager of Leroy Merlin put it so well. Obviously, this step requires an awareness and acculturation of employees via training programs "in the sense of the customer" as at Picard where, at the launch of the new loyalty program Picard & Moi, the teams were trained in the new relational posture and the new customer-oriented KPIs. The result: one year after the launch of its loyalty program, the leading frozen food company has confirmed its position as the favorite brand of the French and is still gaining points in the YouGov barometer of retail brands.

Age 4: COMMITMENT, or how to build your business strategy around the customer

The customer becomes "essential" for the company. They lead discussions, they ask questions, they co-construct. The company's values are at one with societal trends and guide the company's strategic developments. If the age of redefining processes is still (and more than ever) relevant, this age is enhanced by radically new experiences, in line with the values and causes that mobilize customers and that sometimes impact the company's business orientations. Patagonia, with its eco-citizen initiatives, is a perfect example of this desire to share its commitments with its customers through initiatives such as "1% for the Planet", where several companies devote 1% of their turnover to the preservation of the environment, or "wear worn", which allows customers to refurbish and/or recycle their used clothing. At this stage, the customer project is carried by all employees and not only by the management committee. The strategy impacts the very culture of the company. Fnac Darty recently announced that it planned to "sell fewer new products and compensate for this drop in revenue by selling subscription-based services. Once again, the company's commitments are transparent and publicized in order to echo new customer expectations and better engage them. A key figure in this dynamic: 7 out of 10 French people think that companies, brands and retailers have a role to play in social issues.

Age 5: INCLUSION, or how to involve the customer in the cultural transformation of the company.

At the highest level of maturity is inclusion, the age where co-creation is the foundation of the company's offer, service and innovation strategies. Here, the customer is an integral part of the organization. We can easily think of Michel & Augustin, which seeks the ultimate connivance with its customers, or Decathlon, which is ready to remove from its shelves products that receive a satisfaction rating below 4. Club Med, which has long held the mantra "Happy G.O. make Happy G.M.", is now inviting its customers to "Open CODIR", and in its ambition to promote the "economy of consideration", seems to be telling us that from now on "Happy G.M. make Happy G.O". Finally, let's mention the e-tailer Zappos, whose purpose "Bringing happiness to the customer" could be an inspiration to many advocates of customer centricity. To ensure that its employees stay with Zappos for the right reasons (having fun at work, providing solutions and fun to customers...) and not for the wrong reasons (earning more...) the company offers a check for $2000 at the end of the integration process for new recruits, to those who decide to leave the company. Objective: to ensure that only employees who are happy and motivated to join the company are retained. In this way, the customer culture becomes a corporate asset, carried and promoted by each employee.

In short, customer centricity is not, and certainly no longer, a mantra. It is a path that follows 5 ages of maturity, which affects all the elements of the company's value chain: its offer, its services, its distribution model, its organization, its strategic orientations. Becoming aware that "the only boss is the customer" means transforming these elements of the value chain one by one with "customer use cases" that will feed the strategy and the customer obsession every day. And what is your customer maturity level?

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