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Customer Centricity

In five years, what will fundamentally change the customer experience as we know it today?

This Conversation on the Future of Business is brought to you by SAP & MIT Technology Review Custom

Before we can accurately answer this question, we must first understand how customers themselves are changing. Empowered by technology, transparency, and an abundance of information, today’s consumers are dictating new terms of modern commerce. They want their voices to be heard. They insist on transacting across multiple mediums. And they expect their needs to be anticipated. They are a demanding lot, and when their needs are not met, they will not hesitate to patronize a competitor, or broadcast their displeasure to everyone they know (and even some they don’t).

Not surprisingly, this customer revolution is driving change deep throughout the value chain of most product and service providers. Perhaps that’s why, in response to our question about what will fundamentally change the customer experience as we know it, @ashulman2600 responded simply, “Just about everything.”

Indeed companies are dedicating entire teams to studying this customer phenomenon, even appointing chief customer officers to lead the charge. And the number-one weapon at their disposal is, without question, data. “I think real intelligence about the customer will be applied to every transaction, experience and interaction,” responded @robfinley. “Big Data will be at the core.”

Sound Off Join the conversation around each of the questions in this series:

Optimizing Resources Amid Increasing Scarcity
The Power of Networks
Insight-Driven Innovation
Customer Centricity
Unlocking Human Potential

But how will this data transform the customer experience, exactly? Our reader responses can best be summed up by what we’re calling the 3Ps: Participation, Personalization, and Prediction.

Let’s take participation first. Already consumers expect their feedback to be incorporated into product development. Many of these so-called “prosumers” exert influence by reviewing products, “liking” companies, and sharing impressions over various social mediums. But what happens when companies begin actively courting customers to contribute to all aspects of the value chain, collecting structured and unstructured data from a variety of sources to inform everything from the way goods and services are conceived and designed to how they are produced, delivered, and serviced? In this way, the customer experience will be fundamentally altered, molding itself to ever-changing customer desires and fostering greater loyalty, faster development cycles, and increased customization.

Which brings us to personalization. When customers are more active participants in the development cycle, they expect to see products and services that incorporate their input and meet their specific needs. How customer data informs this process is well understood. But these data-driven insights are now being married with powerful custom-manufacturing technologies, such as 3-D printers, that bring true personalization to life. “Customers will continue to want more customized products and services,” posted @ashulman2600. “With advances in 3D printing, digital currency transactions and other areas, consumers will be more robust prosumers.”

And finally, prediction.  Perhaps @Dog21 captured this best in his response: “In 5-years Customer Centricity will be like Wayne Gretzky was in hockey: ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ There will be so much relevant data, business leaders will be able to predict and alter behavior/decisions accordingly, well in advance of market shifts.”

In five years, the customer experience will be radically different. The expectations of the new breed of customer will continue to soar. And they will be looking for opportunities to participate in the development cycle, personalize their products and services, and have their needs predicted. But, fueled by massive new sources of powerful customer data, companies can position themselves to meet these expectations. And if they don’t, their customers won’t be shy about letting them know.

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