“Markets do not exist, just customers.” Unique customers who want to feel special and who “must be placed at the centre of everything a company does. Customer centrality is reshaping what every company aims to be.”
Customer-centricity is the radical shift in perspective that was outlined by Joe Pine, keynote speaker at the 14th edition of #EnelFocusOn on “Customer centricity in the digital age,” which took place on 14 March in Bogotá. Also taking part in the discussion were Lucio Rubio Díaz, Country Manager at Enel in Colombia, and 12 experts and opinion leaders from eight different countries: Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Spain, the United States, Romania, Italy and, naturally, Colombia. The latter is undergoing a process of widespread modernisation in which new digital technologies are playing a key role in enabling the economy to take off.
According to Pine, a business consultant with Strategic Horizons LLP, Colombia has passed from an agrarian local economy, through industrial production and the provision of services, to become an experience economy. This concept was first outlined by Pine in his book “Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition” and later redefined through research into customisation in “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage,” which he co-wrote with Jim Gilmore.
In other words, we have moved from the mass production of the last century to the current situation of mass personalisation, in which the purchasing experience is a dominant feature. According to Pine, “goods and services alone are no longer capable by themselves of meeting the needs of purchasers: experiences and emotions are what people are really seeking. Customers don’t want to choose from more options, but they only want the exact thing they are looking for. There are no “standard” or “average” people, everyone is unique in his or her own way: a company that manages to offer a personalised and exclusive product or service can therefore improve the quality of life of its customers.
A world of possible experiences
“Imagine having six Lego bricks of different colours, each with eight studs. How many different combinations is it possible to build with these? The answer is 915,103,765! With just six bricks! That’s the power of modularity.” Pine used this mind-blowing example to explain that modularity, if applied to products and processes, can offer a company huge potential for personalisation.
Pine outlined numerous case studies: it is now hard to find examples in the production or service industries that have not been transformed by the experience economy. From tourism, where Carnival has created an app capable of personalising its cruises to the most specific requirement of its customers, to the clothing industry and the restaurant and catering sector (Domino’s Pizza enables its clients to customise their pizza and follow its progress right up to delivery), to the lighting systems by Lutron (for Pine, this was the first company to personalise its products). Not to mention medicine and personal care, a sector in which, thanks to the growing use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), a fully-fledged revolution is underway, beginning with diagnostics.
And then there are giants like Coca-Cola and its celebrated custom labels adorned with purchasers’ actual names. Or the historic decision in 2001 by Steve Jobs to open the first Apple Stores in McLean, Virginia and Glendale, California. There are now more than 500 worldwide and that number is set to increase to 600 by 2023. Jobs understood that purchasing an experience could make us happier than simply buying an object: the difference can be found not only in the quality of the product, but also in the combination of a specific location with an experience and emotions that involve us in the first person.
The most striking example on the topic of customer centricity is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his “true customer obsession.” This approach “establishes a relationship through which the company learns what we like to be, our tastes, what music we listen to and much more in order to offer us ever-better products or even things that we don’t yet know that we want,” explained Pine.
“If used correctly, the information that companies have about their customers can enable them to reach each individual customer and build a personal relationship with them, the likes of which would not have been possible 15 years ago,” explained Samir Estefan, co-founder of the Colombian firm Softimiza and one of the influencers attending the #EnelFocusOn event in Bogotá. “It is necessary, however, to find the right balance between aspiration – having what we want, how we want it and when we want it – and the level of privacy that we are willing to renounce in order have it.”
The digital transformation: an opportunity for Colombia
“Technology is creating enormous new possibilities for Colombians. We began eight years ago with just 200 municipalities connected to the internet: today, every municipality in the country is connected. We still need to make some efforts to connect individual citizens in such a way that they cannot only communicate with the world, but also study online and – most importantly – develop their business activities,” explained Juanita Rodriguez, who was largely responsible for getting the digital economy off the ground in Colombia when serving as Deputy Minister and Project Director of the Digital Transformation at the Ministry of Technology, Information and Communications (MinTIC). Today she is in charge of Innovation, New Technology and the Smart City at the Bogotá regional administration.
“We are also working to make all companies technological, not only the large-scale corporations: today 75% of Colombian Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are connected, but only a third of them use the internet as the main tool for growing their business. We are heading in the right direction, but we need to take another cultural leap forward,” she concluded.
This cultural and digital transformation is also driving Enel’s projects and activities in Colombia, with 3.5 Gigawatts of installed capacity and more than 3.5 million customers in Bogotá. “Placing customers at the centre means connecting with them, offering personalised products and services and reinforcing a relationship based on trust and transparency,” Lucio Rubio Díaz said.
As Joe Pine explained, “energy is a commodity and what is decisive is how it is offered rather than what is offered.” What then are the changes that have occurred in the way energy companies perceive their service and how do they place customers at the centre? Rubio added: “For example, in Colombia we have come up with a product that creates value for our customers. Crédito Fácil Codensa has been conceived for low-income consumers who do not have a bank account. It is the first time that a Colombian energy company has provided loans to its clients, contributing therefore to improving the quality of life for them and their children. Our customers have faith in us because we have faith in them.”
A relationship based on trust that is progressively consolidated in a virtuous circle not only enables companies to personalise their products and services: it also helps customers make purchasing choices which favour green companies that ensure a sustainable future. This will be the theme of the next #EnelFocusOn in New York City in April. Stay tuned!