Customer Obsession, Ideal for Today’s Market Dynamics

My friends’ and I have this usual custom of having coffee reviewing the weekend’s papers and discussing what has happened over the week every Sunday morning. Our usual meeting place had been a renowned chain café located at Arat Killo.

Just a month ago, we went to the café as usual but only to found out that it closed its doors to customers.We were stunned and tried to gather information thinking it was only for a day or so. But we found out that the café ceased operation due to the dwindling number of customers.

This very issue dominated our morning that day. Even after we departed one key issue stuck in our head.

How can such a pioneer brand café failed to lure customers that lead to its closure?

What makes it more ironic was that there is another café in the opposite building packed with people all the time.

One word was forwarded repeatedly in different contexts by almost all of us meeting that day-“Competition.” To put it in perspective, it is indispensable to identify who really is the biggest competitor in this interconnected and globalized world for businesses locally, regionally and globally.

Most businesses in Ethiopia, private or government, big or small, have the mentality that they know the needs of customers. They introduce new products or services without getting deeper insights of the target users.

They determine the nature, quality and types of products from their own perspective. They set prices by considering the profit margin they should get. The businesses follow a paternalistic approach that they are the ones who can best determine the needs and demands of customers. It seems there is a prevalent attitude among businesses that customers accept whatever they are being given.

It is our day-to-day routine that we have to wait for an extended period of time to get services/products be it in a restaurant, cafeteria, coffee shop or somewhere else. We must be fortunate enough if we get a quality service/product as per our need. Even then, we have to wait for another long period of time to pay for the services we get probably much longer than we waited for the order to come. If we go to shops to buy clothes, I wonder how many of them allow us to choose the size, color, style and other things we need. What is observed is rather, they are trying their best to impose their interests and convince us to buy their products.

If we conclude a deal to purchase goods or services with some company, it might go well until the final hour with one hundred percent promise of delivery. Then, we start to panicseeing the order deviates from our need. We then might engage in another round of negotiations to get the service as per our order but mostly ends up without bearing fruit. To our dismay, they are number one to seek their payment as if the service or product is supplied as agreed.

Most business owners are thinking of only how much money the very business would likely to make and the profit it will come up with. A handful of them might conduct feasibility study, market research or business plan. Mostly this is done to process bank loan or secure finance as the procedure requires doing so. The list goes on like this.

But there is a big elephant in the room, the customers’ need.

In today’s world where everything is moving at a breakneck speed; information is flowing from one end to the other in seconds, delivery of goods and services is carried out in all due efficiency and global companies are constantly innovating to cope up with the market dynamics, businesses in Ethiopia cannot afford to neglect their clients. Businesses need to put customers at the center of their core process. Rather the issue is how and to what extent businesses need to involve them.

If a business is customer oriented, its products or services are intended to solve their very problems and make their life simple and easy. It all starts from the very premise of the foundation of the business. It is common for business entities, whether new or already in operation, to contemplate about how much money they make. It seems this is the sole reason to start a new venture or expand a business. It would be fine for any investor to calculate the return on investment or profitability, but it is also equally important to have a deeper insight of customers about the product.

Before launching a product, expanding an established business or making revisions of product lines, creating an empathy with customers is crucial. This is not simply asking what they want. Companies use the customary mechanisms and instruments to assess customers’ satisfaction or needs.In such a case, the outcome is becoming shallow pinpointing only the underlying causes. Since there is no any emotional attachment that aligns with the very pains of customers, one cannot understand their true beliefs, attitudes and feelings. As the maiden automaker Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told ‘me a faster horse.’”

Developing customers’ empathy rather focuses on digging deep to know their pains and gains, fears, frustrations, aspirations, wants, needs and measure of success. It deals with identifying what customers think, feel, hear, see as well as say and do. It is about sorting out carefully the immediate, underlying and structural causes of their pains.This step takes any business organization closer to the customers that enable to shares their true feelings.And getting their true feelings makes it quite simple to come up with an innovative value proposition.

Constantly engaging with customers and sharing their candid feelings about a product or service already in the market is essential. Failing to do so will cause the business to suffer setback in the short term and perish in medium to long term. Yet,most business executives or marketing managers simply talk to customers and conclude they got enough information about their need. Having this misguided trend analysis, business executives wasted their time trying to provide solutions for a wrong cause. Finally, they came to know about the gradual decline of the business and subsequent collapse in a hard way reaching to the point of no return.

Look at Nokia, the dominant mobile phone apparatus producer few years back. Even in Ethiopia, it was a favorite with the introduction of mobile service. Now many of us abandon Nokia and shift to Samsung or i phone. As time goes, customers’ need their mobile phones to provide services other than the usual function of making and receiving calls. Developing such a deeper insight of customers, smart phone has been introduced to the market with multipurpose functions adding simplicity and convenience.

Yet, Nokia could not sustain in the smart phone dominated market as it failed to build a deeper understanding of its customers and consequently came up with an innovative value proposition. Rather Samsung constantly engages with its customers, identify their true feelings and comes up with innovative products. Let’s take the Galaxy Note. This product came to the scene after the people in Samsung Mobile noticed that many knowledge workers in Japan and Korea use wallet-size pocket diaries to jot down notes. Taking this unmet future need as an opportunity, the expertise in Samsung empathized with customers need and came up with Galaxy Note, a successful versatile product in the smart phone industry.

There are some indications of customer oriented strategies in the brewery market in Ethiopia. However, their value propositions, unique differentiator as well as customer relations testify all these are devised to cope up the stiff competition in the market not because the customer is their central focus. As they lack the key ingredient of developing a deeper understanding of their customers, they stuck in the usual marketing strategy such as sponsorship of events, happy hour discount and aggressive advertising.I wonder if they a have mechanism of getting a thorough and real insight of their customers. There are instances where new product lines had fallen short of claims and forced to shut off.It is quite clear that customer’s real needs were not identified properly or if so, possibly ended up in showing only the immediate or underlying causes not the structural ones.

Back to where we start, one thing businesses need to bear in mind is that gathering feedback of customers doesn’t guarantee sharing their true feelings. Rather,getting a deeper understanding of their true feelings and the problems they face demand a complex process of establishing empathy and developing a viable value proposition. This is not a single time activity rather an iterative process so as to continuously engage with customers, innovate and sustain in the market.

Businesses fixated with customer obsession primarily not to outperform competitors or to penetrate niche markets. It is because the biggest competitor in this digital and fast moving world is the customer itself. It’s the customer who determines the very survival and sustainability of any business.

By Hailemelekot T. Berhan
He is a Business and Investment Facilitation Specialist.

Published on Mar 25,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 881]



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