Corporate hierarchies grew and thrived in the 20th Century. Job specialisation became a mantra that spawned a zillion new roles. Silos multiplied and corporate infighting became an art that Sun Tzu would have applauded. Protecting your turf became more important than dealing with customers. Marketing was an impersonal process with lots of research and broad ‘target audiences’.
Branding was an esoteric art, and advertising prospered on the back of one way communication through broadscale media. And it was a lot of fun, especially those overseas location TV commercial shoots!
Then the internet arrived and spoiled the whole comfortable system……
A new digital world destroyed analog businesses.
The 21st Century crushed hierarchies and created thinner, flatter organisations. Corporate silos were dismantled and millions of middle managers lost their jobs.
College dropouts became billionaires through brilliant insights and unconventional, customer focused approaches.
Meanwhile, traditional thinking MBAs were cast adrift because the skills that were admired in the 1990s became liabilities in the 2000s.
Branding and communication became a very personalised, one to one, interactive process……but on a giant scale.
So what is the fundamental behaviour that a 21st Century Company now requires of its self and its employees?
I would argue that it is all about enabling customers.
If your role isn’t focused on enabling customers, your job is at risk. The reason that middle managers were wiped out in the last Century was because they became an impediment between the top management of a Company and its customers. Middle management was dedicated to process, not outcome. It was not customer focused.
Equally, Companies which offered ‘middle man services’ were also eliminated because the internet enables direct customer access. So anything in the middle was simply bypassed.
You could argue that many online platforms like Uber, AirBnB, Upwork, KickStarter, GoJek, are all middle men. That’s true, but the difference is that they are platforms dedicated to enabling customers. They don’t get in the way, they facilitate. They aren’t all about process, they are about enabling outcomes.
Many websites are now being supplemented or replaced by apps which make customer access even easier and more convenient and enable customers on the go. Customers can be sent instant notifications of deals, special offers, or benefits. Buying and payment becomes faster and easier because their card information is retained by the vendor.
It’s all about enabling…….
So ask yourself if your job is focused on helping customers get easier, more convenient service?
Is your Company developing new systems and processes to enable effortless, direct customer access?
If not, here are three things that you need to do:
1. Break down barriers
Identify any barriers between your company and its customers, and work out how to circumvent them. Your goal is to achieve a direct connection between your Company and your customer.
This means looking at what may currently be perceived as a necessary and helpful facility for your customers, but viewing it from a negative perspective as a barrier between you and a customer.
For example, you may have a retailer or dealer arrangement where customers can buy and pay for your products or services. Think about this ‘customer facility’ as a barrier rather than an asset. How can it be circumvented so that the customer can deal directly with you? Can you give the customer an app which makes the process faster, easier, and maybe less expensive? What sort of direct payment facilities can you offer?
2. Ensure that the customer clearly benefits from having a direct connection with you.
Amazon and Alibaba are the masters of, ‘If you like this, you may also like this…’, and, ‘Other people who bought that, also bought this…’.
Mass personalisation based on behavioural data.
Or special deals and offers only to ‘members’ of the Company’s ‘customer club’. Mass exclusivity.
Individualised marketing powered by direct access to the customer.
Think about how else can you use a direct connection to the customer to provide them with a unique benefit, and at the same time create a sales opportunity for the Company.
For example if you’re selling physical products, how can you directly deliver a customer experience before purchase? How about a virtual experience platform which also enables the immediate purchase
of the item being trialled…..and delivery within 24 hours?
3. Enhance the customer experience
Having direct access to the customer provides the means and opportunity to build a more intimate relationship and create a better experience.
Too often, Companies focus only on providing the platform for browsing and buying, but end up alienating the customer because of a poor online experience, or unsatisfactory delivery.
So you need to build into your enabling platforms some mechanisms to ensure that customer satisfaction is measured and tracked. A virtous feedback loop that provides buyer information, user ratings, and a unique experience to retain existing customers and reassure new prospects.
In summary, you’re now in the Enabling Century.
To be a successful as an employee or a Company, you need to come up with ideas that enable direct access to your customers, and enable the customers to have a more intimate, enjoyable interaction with your brand.