As always, we read the excellent IBM Global CEO Survey with interest, especially given the last years have demonstrated the importance of understanding customers needs and designing experiences in the eyes of top CEOs.
The 2012 study shows the increasing focus on gaining insights into their customers. In a section titled Individualisation: Death of the average”, the report picks up heavily on language author Joseph Pine (and co-author James Gilmore) pioneered in the early 90s:
73% of CEOs are making significant investments in their organisations ability to draw meaningful customer insights from available data… “Knowing the customer” is no longer confined to segmentation, statistical averages and historical inferences. After more than a decade of talking about “markets of one” and “mass customisation”, the means are finally catching up with the rhetoric. Technological advances are making it feasible to understand customers – based on actual, real-time behaviour – and engage them as individuals.However, engaging customers as individuals involves far more than responding in a singular fashion; it is about knowing a customer as a whole human being – with interests, attitudes and life circumstances that colour preferences and needs. Such knowledge can radically improve how organisations respond to customers, but can also lead to entirely new products and services. - IBM Global CEO Study 2012
What’s the reality on the ground?
With 72% of the CEOs aiming to improve understanding of individual customer needs, it would be easy to assume that many organisations are on top of this. Our experience says otherwise: many organisations we talk to have collected data around customer needs that is at best “misinformation”, do not use what they have in a strategic way, do not combine it with in-depth qualitative research like ethnography or interviews to build profiles that help link customer needs to strategy, and do not use any of this to improve or innovate around their customer experience or services, which is still mostly done around the flipchart.
This is most apparent when applied to physical experiences, which increasingly lag behind digital in employing benefits of personalisation (despite increasingly omnichannel possibilities) and in capturing customer insight through predominantly face to face interactions. We can see this clearly, because many bricks and mortar stores have only a marginally improved experience to that of 10 years ago. Is your supermarket shop, for example, really any different yet?
If nothing else, this should offer some relief to many CEOs: they may be more behind than they thought, but so is much of the rest of the market. The average customer, unfortunately, isn’t quite dead yet.