By Stanford Chabayanzara
To be stagnant in a global economy which is fast growing means to fall behind. What we all seek is growth in one way or another whether at personal or business levels. In the business world, growth should always be at the top of mind of every business owner so that the business grows to stay health and relevant, but critical questions to ask are, how can business continue to be relevant? What do they need to do or apply to meet the growth challenges of today? How do companies re-create sustainable and repeatable growth?Perhaps there is a ‘silver bullet’ or “one thing” that we need to grab that will magically improve or sustain business performance, respond to a competitive threat, or recover from a growth stall. Sadly not! According to Tiffani Bova (Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce), “the reality is when it comes to growth………..the “one thing” is its never “one thing”. Jeff Bezos (Amazon) could not agree more when he echoed “there is no single way to do it, it’s a combination on many things”.
Growth is Becoming TougherFinding ways to grow the business is becoming all-consuming especially for start-ups, small businesses or even a new division of a big business. Reliable and sustainable growth for established companies and new companies is elusive, getting harder and seem to be getting tougher. It did not come as a surprise that, in its 3rd quarter in 2007 IBM found itself with more than twenty-two straight quarters of declining revenue. What is making growth tougher is the consumers, they have become more empowered and educated. Consumers are more informed and demanding due to the advent of social media, smartphones, and the internet. Current research shows that more than 65% of customers look to “reviews” as the number one source when they are deciding among different brands and products. This is why customer experience growth path can be so unforgiving.Whether you are looking to accelerate growth, recover from a slowdown in top-line sales or expand to new markets or customer segments. The most perpetual and frustrating challenge faced by executives is determining how best to grow their businesses. While its normal for businesses to experience high sales and low sales periods, an extended stall or slowdown in growth is often a cause for great concern among investors and employees.
This article reveals a landscape of opportunities you may not even realize you have at your fingertips. The growth am referring to in this article is, top-line sales organic growth, not cost cutting, mergers and acquisitions or other means to grow profitably or bottom-line. There many growth paths that can be compressed to 10 growth paths (as listed below), but I will reflect on customer experience growth path, as it’s the most critical growth path that no business can afford to ignore. I will show you why in a moment, but for now herewith the 10 growth paths:
Growth Path One: Customer experience – inspire additional purchases and advocacy.
Growth Path Two: Customer base penetration – sell more existing products to existing customers.
Growth Path 3: Market acceleration – expand into new markets with existing products.
Growth Path 4: Product expansion – sell new products to existing markets.
Growth Path 5: Customer and product diversification – sell new products to new customers.
Growth Path 6: Optimise sales – streamlining sales efforts to increase productivity.
Growth Path 7: Churn (minimize defection) – retain more customers.
Growth Path 8: Partnerships – leverage third party alliances, channels, and ecosystem
Growth Path 9: Co-opetition – cooperate with market or industry competitor.
Growth Path 10: Unconventional strategies – disrupt current thinking.Which of the above 10 are you focusing on or in what combination? Now let us look at what is customer experience, Bova (2018) submit, “it is the sum of all of a brand’s touch points both online and offline through both human representatives and now the technology”. Customer experience is centred on the interactions between the companies and their customers. It is based on the feelings that arise once customers engage with a product / service, employee and various sales, service, and marketing channels. The shift in customer expectations is proving to upset everything we think we know about business growth. The true source of competitive differentiation in the 21st century is customer experience.Customer Experience is everything.
The aim of every business owner is to make the interaction with customers positive and memorable, unfortunately we have had our fair share of disappointments and those “negative” customer experiences images are burned in our memory and conversations. Let me give you an example of how organizations are increasingly making it difficult to create positive memories for their clients. My recent interaction with a certain Nissan branch was not a good one, they put in new brake pads without skimming the dics as agreed (but was charged and paid for skimming), as if that were not enough two of the left front wheel nuts were left loose. You see, I have forgotten how much I paid for the louse service but I will never forget the horrible experience – the revenue for Nissan is at stake at this branch. Businesses have one opportunity to create a positive and value-adding experience for a customer or you kiss goodbye recurring business the customer was to bring. The moment a customer interacts with our product or service, that moment is about that customer and his/her success. Every effort should be geared towards making the customer happy and successful because he / she has interacted with our brand. Everything else at this moment doesn’t matter if you are not able to create positive experience for this customer. Research has revealed that, 80% of surveyed people say the “experience a company provides is as important as its products”, 67% of them said they’ll pay more for great experience. This is where your business growth is going to come from, those small extra mile efforts to make the customer interaction with your brand pleasing. Robert Collier puts it beautifully when he said, “success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out”.While it is difficult to find exactly what makes your customer happy, but we can’t deny that your customer is an emotional being. Identify where along the customer touch point you can insert surprises. Who does not love surprises! The customer journey is more than an exchange of money for products or services, people want to interact with brands that identify with their happiness and make them feel good. When you insert surprises in the buyer’s journey you are creating a deeper level of emotional connection that cultivates long term loyalty.
Let us reflect on Starbucks for a moment, they paid a hefty price when they shifted their focus from customer experience to market acceleration, product expansion and customer and product diversification. I know what you thinking now, isn’t that amazing? Isn’t all growth good growth? Well, not really. Unfortunately, although Starbucks was seeing top-line growth, all that growth come with an unexpected heavy penalty. The rapid pace of change, expansion of product offerings, and store opening with little consideration for letting the employees absorb all the changes and analysing the impact of those changes to customer experience. This alienated everyone including existing loyalists and new customers. Starbucks went into full blown growth stall, the then chairman (Howard Schultz) saw the disaster coming. Starbucks’ stocks started falling, slumped even further, by end of the year (2007) it had lost nearly half of its value. On his return as CEO of Starbucks in 2008, Schultz said “the most serious challenge we face is of our own doing, we become passionate about customer relationship and the coffee experience. We spent time on efficiency rather than experience”. Within weeks of Schultz’s returning as CEO, he become laser focused on shifting Starbucks away from bureaucracy and back to its customers.
Regardless of the industry you in, segment you serve, there is no way around this, becoming a customer-led company, one that is obsessively focused on customer and their experiences with a brand, is not just one of the ten growth paths, it is the growth path that must become the foundation of each subsequent paths. In order for a company to ride on the customer experience path as a growth enabler, customer experience must become the “nucleus” that sits at the intersection of all business units, all functions, all decision and all employees.
While the customer experience path may ultimately be the most rewarding of the ten growth paths, it is also often one of the most difficult to pull off. Transforming customer experience requires complete company buy-in. Each employee must understand his/her role in delivering the product or service to the customer. From the accountant to the cleaning crew, everyone plays a part. There must be willingness to shift, only then will a company translate into an overall mission, a true north for the company to rally around.
Customer experience can become a vital part of almost every successful company, which is why it is such a powerful path when pursuing growth. But navigating a successful customer experience growth can be a long, and often confusing endeavor; long, because your relationship with customers can evolve over years, and confusing, because it is constantly changing and evolving and, on some occasion, counterintuitive as most of it is controlled by the customer and not you. In other words, you have the most control over your destiny by having the least over what your customers actually do with you.
Using the customer-centric approach to achieve growth is to drive customer obsession throughout the entire organization. Today you need an exceptional sales team, strong marketing team and a responsive customer service team. By comparison you may only need a “good enough” product. But these are not enough to sustain growth. It is the combination of all those things that are required if you choose to pursue the growth path – this is the path that must be combined with all the others growth paths. There is no way to fake your way through this path, no amount of money, advertising, or vast product portfolio will make up for subpar experiences. Bear in mind you can’t have the best customer experience in town and serve terrible food or subpar cup of coffee or sell a product that doesn’t work. Remember, this path is a combination play supporting all of the other nine paths in some way. If you don’t use it as a combination play when pursuing one or more growth paths, you actually risking finding yourself in a similar situation as Starbucks, diluting the value of your brand to your customer.
“I don’t care what else you do to grow if your customers have a bad experience it doesn’t matter. You could have the best product in the world, and if it’s tough to use they won’t use it again, and they definitely won’t talk about it.” Tiffani Bova.
Stanford Chabayanzara is the founder of Melzara Education, Quayside Technical College and soon to be launched Melzara University. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org