The CX-Files: Eat your own lunch — be brave & expand into the unknown
by Julia Ahlfeldt (@JuliaAhlfeldt) We live in a world where design thinking surrounds us. So why, then, are there still brands that break the cardinal rule and build their businesses around their needs — and not their customers?
There’s no need to name and shame, even though some would benefit from a strong hint. Rather, many have gotten it right and the ones to watch will be those brands that continue to push the envelope with their customer-centric evolution. This requires thinking outside of the box while keeping the needs of the customer front-and-centre. That may be a difficult task to manage but it’s not impossible. Here are two of my favourite examples.
Be brave and go beyond your comfort zone
Locally, a great example of customer experience (CX) strategy is Yuppiechef. Having recently interviewed co-founder Andrew Smith, it was clear from the onset of our conversation that the now 12-year-old retailer was, and still is, built around its customers.
It takes customer satisfaction seriously, so much so that it has custom-built everything, from its website to warehouse operations, with the resulting CX in mind. This mantra comes from the top, with leadership remaining connected to the brand promise. Smith still writes some of the famous handwritten customer thank-you notes and, if a customer has an issue, there’s a chance he’ll respond himself, as he occasionally jumps in to help the customer support team.
Yuppiechef — now purposely not Yuppiechef.com — has enjoyed great success with its ecommerce offering. It would have been easy to remain in this channel, but the business recognised that consumers want both an online and traditional instore experience. Listening to its customers’ needs, Yuppiechef leapt out of its comfort zone and into the realm of physical retail. Many South Africans gasped at this unexpected move from a truly South African ecommerce success story. Did it signal the end of ecommerce? Was the company in trouble? The truth is Smith and team humbly acknowledged that ecommerce is still small in South Africa. Coupled with an entrenched mall culture, this suggested a retailer should integrate physical with digital. So Yuppiechef launched a store to give customers more choice and access to online products, as well as engage new customers who may be sceptical to ecommerce. The calculated gamble has paid off and its third store opened last week at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town (it also has an outlet store at Westlake).
A prime example of lateral thinking
Then there’s Amazon. The original online business. It was launched in 1994, and Amazon has branched out many times over its two-and-a-half decades. Initially started as an online bookstore, it soon diversified into electronics, furniture, toys, and later into its own tech devices, and streaming services.
Netflix and other online content-streaming services have disrupted traditional TV, but it’s been surprising to see a brand born from ecommerce enter the online content streaming space so successfully. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, though. The company now has a base of 100m customers to learn from, and Amazon has become a titan of customer-centric innovation. Unfazed by the unknown, Jeff Bezos encourages his team to think big, constantly innovate, and not fear failure. Over time, this has fostered an environment that’s perfect for lateral thinking and continual innovation.
The Amazon Prime subscription programme is perhaps the perfect example of Amazon’s lateral thinking. Originally launched as a discount shipping service, Prime evolved to bring Amazon’s suite of streaming, shopping, and online storage services into a cohesive offering of lifestyle products. Pushing the boundaries has paid off. Despite a recent price hike from US$99 to US$119, Amazon Prime continues to thrive because customers love it.
Ask what the customer wants
Yuppiechef and Amazon are among a celebrated club of businesses that have truly geared their businesses around customers. These brands aren’t held back by their legacy but rather remain agile and ready to meet customers where they want to be. To follow in their footsteps, design thinking must be integrated into every part of a business, from website user experience, employee experience and HR to front of house, call centre and marketing. Outdated silos and traditional standalone channels don’t cut it in a commercial world where customers demand integration, seamless experiences and choice, at good value.
But, as Smith put it, businesses should put themselves in their customers’ shoes and ask, “Would they be happy with this?” Such a simple question, yet one that may be hard to fulfil. When integrated with intent, it could turn a flagging behemoth into an agile innovator and even disrupt the disruptor. It just needs to keep its eye closely on the market and understand what its customers want next. Simple.
Julia Ahlfeldt (@JuliaAhlfeldt) is a certified customer experience professional (CCXP). For more must do’s and don’ts on how to keep customers returning again and again to buy from your brand, listen to her podcast, Decoding the Customer. She contributes the monthly column “The CX-Files”, which looks at current issues from a CX perspective, to MarkLives.
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