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I don’t think this question can be answered with a simple yes or no. The market in which we operate today does not lend itself to being able to plainly state “Yes, our customers are loyal,” or “No, they are not.” Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is what can we do to drive customer loyalty?
Changing customer and “supplier” dynamic
I have used the quotation marks around “supplier” for two reasons.
Firstly, I think the way we do business is fundamentally changing. The values that our customers are looking to derive from their relationship with a company like ours is changing. In the not so distant past we were exchanging with customers based purely on our offerings and the values that those specific products could bring to a current or potential customer. A piece of software was just that, and as a supplier we would deliver that software and fulfill the very clear need that the customer had identified, and had engaged us to fulfill with that software.
Secondly, the products that we sell are becoming standardized. SCADA is SCADA and a controller is a controller. Today’s products alone do not offer sufficient differentiation.
Customers no longer need a “supplier”
Now, they want a strategic partner. They want someone who knows their business and understands their overall strategy. Someone who can formulate and demonstrate a valuable solution that helps a customer with their very own specific needs [One size no longer fits all].
I think there are three unique things (which work in combination) that a customer looks for when choosing a business partner:
1. Access to innovative technology, and the ability to derive value from that technology in new ways. This is at the heart of what we do here. But it must be provided in conjunction with the next two points.
2. Assistance with executing on their overall strategy (this is where being more than just a “supplier” comes in). In fewer and fewer instances customers are coming to us just looking for a control platform, or a just SCADA system. Now they are coming to us looking for a complete blueprint for their next generation factory. This factory has challenges related to operations, energy and people and they want a partner who can deliver solutions for all these concerns.
Case in point: not naming names, but we were recently with the CIO of a very large water company. The topic for discussion was the main strategic and operational challenges that he expected to face over the next five years. Like any good CIO, he was able to boil this down to 10 key topics. As we were going through those topics he identified that we could help him tick off eight of those 10 challenges.
3. Their experience of your company – the experience a customer has when dealing with your company is very much dependent on the nature of your business. If you are very product focused and your business is quite transactional then you will focus your customer experience on supply chain, technology support and so on. In contrast, those companies which aim to be a strategic partner for their customers must be able to use technology to show a customer that they are aware of their values, and be able to connect with organizations as a whole, and with individuals, throughout the different levels of the customer engagement lifecycle.
It is the combination of an innovative offer, skilled people and the ability to build a strategic relationship with a customer that is proven through an excellent customer experience that can be a key differentiator – and a unique competitive advantage that is very hard to replicate.
So to tie all this together – how do we develop and sustain customer loyalty in an environment that is still quite volatile? I would say simply that your customer must understand exactly how you help them create value for their business in a sustainable way. In the past this was focused purely on your offer – is it good or not? Now I think it’s focused on whether you can demonstrate to that customer that you have the right technology, people and vision to be aligned with where they are going, where the market is going, and (as a partner) to go on that journey together.
What do you feel might be some other ideas to help develop and sustain customer loyalty in an environment that is still quite volatile?