Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Business Innovation: Success starts with the customer

One-size-fits-all approach is out and customised services are creating new business models.
Accenture's Ben Morgan (L) and Michael Buckley.
Accenture's Ben Morgan (L) and Michael Buckley.

When British bank Atom launched last month, it did so by inviting new customers to download its app.

There will be no branches, just a digital-only offer backed by call centre support at the company's Durham headquarters.

In fact, chairman Anthony Thomson says opening a bank with branches in today's market would be like UK telecommunications giant BT installing phone boxes.

Atom plans to do away with logins and passwords in favour of biometric security and lets account holders customise its app.

The new bank expects its offer -- currently limited to a savings account -- to appeal not just to a new generation of bank customers who are rarely, if ever, seen inside a bank branch, but to older, digital-savvy customers.

Atom is just one of a number of banking start-ups, unhindered by legacy systems and business models, aiming to give the established players a run for their money, says Accenture Interactive New Zealand lead, Ben Morgan.

Morgan, who joined Accenture Interactive, Accenture's digital agency, from Air New Zealand, says new entrants are building business models based entirely on providing the best customer experience.

And customer expectations are not only sky high, but they probably weren't even set by a direct competitor, Morgan adds.

He calls it liquid expectations, where amazing customer experiences will establish the benchmark for services delivered by vastly different businesses.

Not only is it shaking up business models, but it's leading organisations to focus on deeply understanding the customer. "We spend a lot of time talking around the concept of service design and being obsessed with your customer," Morgan says. "What we mean by that is being really, really clear around 'what is the outcome goal that your customer is trying to achieve?' and looking across the end-to-end journey."

Using ethnographic research techniques, businesses are shadowing staff and customers in order to gain an understanding of what they need and want.

It's not a one-size-fits all approach that is keeping customers coming back, he says.

Personalisation is key, says Morgan, pointing to the airline industry as an example.

From a purely product perspective, an airline is about getting you safely from A to B.

But the experience you want to have on that flight and your underlying needs when travelling with your kids will be different to when you're travelling for business, says Morgan.

"A lot of organisations still have a one-size-fits-all approach to customer experience and we're spending a lot of time actually shifting it from a one-size-fits-all into this concept of partner personalisation, which is around actually developing customer experiences that are actually specific to you as an individual.

"That all starts by understanding who your customer is in terms of that customer data." Businesses focusing on products are missing out, says Morgan.

"As soon as you start to embed the customer in everything you do, you start to unlock a whole bunch of opportunities."

Digital also has made luxury -- the chauffeur-driven car courtesy of Uber; the holiday home in multiple locations booked through Airbnb -- available to the masses.

Uber is the poster child for smart innovation and disruption, but it is always looking to add value to its customers.

When you order an Uber, you can also dial up a playlist on Spotify to run through the car's sound system when you get picked up.

Instead of the classic taxi ride, where you need to provide direction on where to go while listening to the driver's choice of radio, you can get there with no talk, listening to the music of your choice, with payment taken care of automatically, Morgan says.

"The more you do that, the more you can get customers coming back for more and more and that's that concept of having that really clear simple view of the customer and all the interactions that they have, to then be able to tailor experiences for the customer."

A lot of brands think they're "doing customer experience" but they're making small incremental changes that are just putting sticking plasters on a bigger problem, says Morgan.

"The brands that are going to win are the brands that step back and make some fundamental changes to the business model and set themselves up for the new world," he says.

Digital also has made luxury -- the chauffeur-driven car courtesy of Uber; the holiday home in multiple locations booked through Airbnb -- available to the masses through access rather than ownership.

Accenture calls it the flattening of privilege and Michael Buckley, managing director, Accenture Interactive Australia and New Zealand, says the trend, identified by Accenture's design and innovation consultancy Fjord, is one they debate regularly.

"As soon as you flatten the privilege, someone will come in and create something that someone wants to pay a lot for, so it actually recreates a lot of new business models because someone is going to want to pay more for something that no one else can have." Buckley says that in turn will result in more and more business models.

We're at an amazing inflection point, he says, because the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world are changing business models.

Not only is the nature of customer experience changing, says Buckley, but so are entire business models that lie behind that experience.

The consultants work with many groups, says Buckley. "It could be a sporting group, it could be a bank, it could be a government organisation, that has not realised it actually needs to completely disrupt its own business model in order to actually future proof the organisation.

"That's really exciting."

- NZ Herald

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