What does the customer want?

Transform or die: Why failing to digitally transform your business will end in disaster 

In the Mad Men tv-series, the episode titled “The Monolith” features an early IBM computer from the late 1960s. SC&P, the fictional ad agency which is in the centre of the 7-season saga, buys the “thinking machine” so that their media planning will become accurate and scientific. With the help of the computer they be able to track the preferences, choices and sentiments of the TV-audience. They will learn which advertisements keep the viewers in front of the screen and which products attract their attention.

The Monolith is so big that it occupies the hangout lounge of the creative team. Some designers get upset, some of them suffer a breakdown. But some of them are inspired by the machine’s potential.

This episode is a powerful representation of the pros and cons of digital transformation, the use of computing technology to drive business by delivering greater insight, leaner processes, slicker customer experience and ultimately greater profit.

For a 21st-century audience, the size, the noise and the enthusiasm about the “thinking machine” feels strange. Today we have smarter devices in our pockets. Technology has evolved. But our ambition has not changed over the recent decades. We are still looking for the Holy Grail. We still want to know what the customer wants.

Customers have adopted this digital change. They are the expert end-users of the digital technology that has transformed our relationship with them. They expect brands to develop smart shopping apps and intelligent customer service, and they have developed their digital skills accordingly. Customer service is no longer defined by how quickly you can respond and resolve complaints, it is how positively customers perceive their interactions with your company – regardless of the communication channels.

Engage Hub, the data-driven customer engagement provider, calls this “a digital-first mentality” in its new whitepaper, Digital Transformation, Customer Experience & Calculating ROI. Indeed, says Engage Hub, it’s a pre-requisite if you want to stand a chance in today’s cutthroat environment digital transformation is essential. For instance, customer communications need to be able to respond to individual customer behaviour and inferred preferences – more than 46 per cent of consumers said they would be “more encouraged to purchase if promotional offers and updates were tailored to their likes, dislikes and channel preferences.”

The irony of all this is that today’s demand for futuristic technologies such as intelligent chatbots reflects a desire for the more convenient, personalised shopping experience of yesteryear. Before the age of FMCGs, gigantic retail chains, mass production and mass branding, shopkeepers greeted our grandparents by their name. The butcher saved the juiciest chunk of a porterhouse steak for his loyal customers, and the shoemaker did not mind the detour on the way to work to take an extra measurement of his client’s foot.

Global trade is taking over local relationships, and the personal touch is being replaced by brand values, loyalty programs and vouchers. However, customers want a return to more traditional relationships and are willing to pay for it According to recent research, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020. - Walker

But are these expectations realistic? Can merchants, service providers and manufacturers devote such personal, time-consuming attention to so many millions of customers? How can a UK business make a client in Singapore feel it has an intimate understanding of how to serve that client’s needs? How can you identify an individual customer if he is browsing a web shop with multiple devices, and using multiple usernames and accounts?

Digital transformation can empower businesses to square the circle, offering something close to a personal, tailored experience to individuals in the vast, anonymous global marketplace. Businesses that succeed in doing this can expect to be rewarded with increasingly loyal customers. According to the white paper, the likelihood of customers returning to the brand and purchase additional goods and services is 2.7 times greater.

“Consumers expect an immediate, responsive service”, Engage Hub’s whitepaper concludes, “and when they do, they express their gratitude by spending 20 to 40 per cent more.”

While digital transformation can help revenues to rise, it can also help costs to fall. Satisfied customers have far fewer problems and are less likely to complain or return goods. And those customers become willing brand ambassadors, spreading the good word about the great experiences they have had at no extra cost.

Digital transformation no longer an option – it is the new normal.