It’s surprising how many large companies seem to get further and further away from the things that made them successful in the first place as they grow – like their customers. In the environment of “enterprise,” systems, cultures, metrics and rewards tend to focus on activities and transactions rather than on softer measures such as perceptions and relationships.
It’s with some justification that executives at smaller companies believe they are closer to their customers, and feel that they are more deserving of their customer’s loyalty, than executives at larger companies.
In general, people feel the same way, noticing that the experience of being a customer for a smaller company tends to be better than the experience of being the customer of a big company.
Why does it seem so hard for big companies to serve their customers well?
You’d think that larger companies, with more resources, greater customer awareness and dominant market share would win this battle hands-down. After all, most big companies started as small companies. And they got bigger because – in theory – they were better able to understand their customers and their needs than their competition. At some point, they had to have had an intimate understanding of customer needs, and done a good job meeting them. Voice-of-the-customer (VoC) wasn’t an abstract research input into the customer analytics dashboard, but something management listened to and often lived with every day.
Yet as growth occurs, the distance between executives and their customers grows as well, and companies tend to turn away from customers towards things like operational efficiencies and product development.
The growing company advantage: A focus on smarter customer experiences
It’s no secret that the ways customers interact with and gather information about companies is changing. Business buyers or consumers, they demand more and get it from more places than ever.
Our world is at the early stages of a shift in customer relationships, technology and innovation. And as this shift continues, smart customers are leveraging opportunities to get smarter – and are looking to the companies they deal with to help them do so.
But big companies can’t easily bridge the multiple internal silos that deliver experiences. In fact, by their own admission, it’s the number one issue they have. Employees don’t have access to customer histories, much less their wants and needs. Their websites don’t remember what people purchased, what they did, where they looked, or what interests them.
With many companies, the experience of customers dealing with them across departments or divisions feels broken, if not downright schizophrenic. Customers are asking themselves: “Why can’t these experiences be smarter?”
And of course, they can be. This creates a significant opportunity for smaller, fast-growth companies, when it comes to leveraging the ever-more-powerful-and-pervasive technologies available to them to see, to hear, to learn from, and to speak to their customers in new and ever more intelligent ways. And in the process, delivering customer experiences that are not only tailored to customer needs, but have the ability to evolve, drive new sources of revenue, and create the kind of loyalty that most companies only dream of.
Companies like these will be leveraging disruptive forces to automate the process of building stronger relationships, sell more products and simplify supply chains through real-time, crowd-sourced social CRM data and opinion-gathering, intelligent, interactive touchpoints and products and more, giving their customers exactly what they want, right when they want it, wherever they are.
Yes, the challenges that exist in managing the transition from small and customer-centric to bigger and customer-centric are significant, but not insurmountable. In fact, we believe the companies that are most successful at leveraging these innovations to learn from their customers, that eliminate practices that waste their time, sense customer needs and simplify their lives, are those that will be the big companies of tomorrow.