Be more customer-centric

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(Part one of a three-part series)

(Editor’s note: The following article was derived from recorded transcripts of “The Experience Edge,” a presentation that Chris Wallace, co-founder and president of InnerView, delivered at the 2021 NAFCD conference in Dallas this past November.)

Products won’t be enough to win over the post-pandemic consumer. Consumers will choose brands and providers who make their buying experience easier, safer and more enjoyable. Here, I will share guidance on how companies in the building material and flooring industries can partner to deliver another layer of value to consumers.

People in this industry have a different definition of who the customer is. You
might have one customer who might be a supplier selling a distributor, but the distributor might have another customer—perhaps a fabricator or even the contractor who installs the product. There might even be more customers downstream.

What we need to do is focus on one customer, the person who buys the product at the end of the line. The person whose hard-earned paycheck goes into the end product that you help deliver. That’s the customer. And we’re going to talk about how you can get oriented to that person. That’s what I mean by customer centricity. You need to have customer centricity at each step along the way, at each link in the value chain. It’s a lot easier to do that if you’re aligned and focused on delivering for one person— the ultimate customer.

Over the last 40 years, most major product quality problems have vanished due to fanatical measurements coupled with advancements in design, business processes, science and technology. Now customers expect even more. With excellent quality now more or less a given, companies have shifted their energy to improving every aspect of their customer experience.

So, what are we actually talking about when we mention customer experience? What we are talking about is the fact that product, at this stage of the game, doesn’t really matter.

How do we know this? We’ve worked with different industries for a long time (I was actually a flooring rep way back when), and we continue to work with companies in the manufacturing space. What we found is there’s still this focus on product with claims like: “Our product is better.” “It’s harder than last year.” “It’s softer than last year.” “It’s more waterproof than last year.”

Whatever that story is, it’s not helping you stand out in the marketplace. I recently had a conversation with an executive in the flooring industry who oversees a very large retail network. He told me that if he had his way, the showrooms that he oversees would have one-sixth of the product on their showroom floors. His reasoning? The volume of products and the choices that customers have is actually making the decision-making process more difficult, not easier. He also went so far as to say there has not been a material upgrade in the experience that we deliver to customers in at least the last 20 years. Yes, we’ve had digital advancements in the form of websites, social media, online video, etc. However, in terms of the journey the buyer goes on to find her product, get it in her home and have it installed, there has not been any material upgrades made in the last 20 years.

It’s time to start making those upgrades because you can’t stand alone on the fact that your product is better than the competition because you say so; you have to find another way to stand out. And that new frontier is experience.

Chris Wallace is the president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that helps companies transfer their brand messages to their customer-facing employees and partners.

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Nov. 22/29, 2021

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