With the Middle East’s retail sector set to score another record year of sales, sustaining growth is becoming increasingly complex and challenging for companies, with growing competition from international and homegrown brands. Today’s dynamic, highly competitive, multi-channel, technologically advanced retail environment requires a different game… even from the one that was played just a few years ago.
Perhaps the single most fundamental shift we have witnessed in the last few years has less to do with product or service innovation than with consumer attitudes and behaviours.
With the increased commoditisation of products and universal quality standards, consumers are not necessarily looking for better products as much as products better suited to their needs. And they are making their voices increasingly heard.
In a groundbreaking survey conducted by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry in June to measure customer satisfaction at 25 car dealerships, the majority (61 per cent) of respondents expressed overall dissatisfaction. Companies who are able to respond to this shift are the ones that will be able to create unique customer value and thus emerge as clear winners.
What matters to consumers today? They want to experience positive emotions when interacting with a brand, which will create a desire to repeat the experience by returning to the same place of business.
In other words, creating unique value will come through the ability of businesses to deliver meaningful and differentiated customer experiences.
Great customer experiences generate an emotional currency that in turn translates into a financial currency to drive brand growth.
Creating valuable customer experiences will come through putting the customer at the heart of your business. It’s what’s referred to as customer-centricity, which is essential to a company’s survival.
In view of this, companies can no longer afford to treat customer-centricity as an aspirational tool found on a ‘Vision’ or ‘Mission’ statement.
Successful retail and service companies understand that, regardless of the industry they are in, they are in the business of gaining and retaining clients.
Therefore, it’s about instilling customer-centricity into the fabric of the organization and applying it at all levels of the company. Creating a customer-centric organisation is a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach, which requires determining and implementing required changes to the existing philosophy, people behaviour, processes, and the use of technology in order to enhance profit and growth.
It involves working with teams to align the whole business with the goals of delivering an outstanding customer experience, with every interaction.
In fact, anchoring customer centricity in employees’ hearts and minds is crucial and can only succeed if all employees live this dedication to the customer day in day out.
Companies who give ownership of the customer experience to the front-line employees are the ones who understand that the relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction runs deep.
In a 2012 study conducted in the UAE to measure perception of customer service across a wide range of sectors including retail, 50 per cent of respondents felt the need to develop a more customer-oriented culture in their own organisation, to help boost customer service scores and employee retention.
Businesses need to be able to deliver meaningful customer experiences, every single time the customer interacts with their brand, regardless of channel and location. This creates consistency and predictability, which translates into a reliable brand relationship, and automatically, elevates the brand’s value in the minds of consumers.
It’s time for companies to start embracing customer-centricity wholeheartedly, if they want to retain competitive advantage. It will often require a deep-seated transformation from ‘business as usual’, driven by committed leadership, owned by an empowered team, and enabled through the right processes, tools and technology embedded within the organization.
This will help build a growing, satisfied, loyal, frequent and promoter customer base, which will deliver higher sales and profits to your business. Shifting towards customer-centricity will not only bring greater rewards to companies, but greater benefit to the retail industry as a whole, ensuring it continues to be one of the fastest growing regional industries and one of the leading drivers of economic growth in the Middle East.
— The writer is the founder and CEO of Management 2000 (M2000), the retail advisory firm.