Knowing customers’ needs boosts returns investment

Friday October 23 2020

Today, every business has a burning platform: a friction point between their customers’ expectations and offerings that are disrupting their business. The longer they wait to solve it, the more likely it is to wreck their business.

We like to think that we are living in a technology-led world. The reality is that customer expectations are the biggest disruptor, not technology. Today, customer expectations are changing by the day - and are shaped by the environment. Most of the industries especially in Africa - from fashion and telecoms to healthcare and fintech are not prepared to adapt to the needs of their ever-changing customers.

To drive the point home, let’s look at four customer expectations that are burning retail business today:

1. Be personal

2. Be connected

3. Be mission-driven


4. Be experiential

Customers expect their experience across various industries for instance in retail to be personal in the same way they get personalized movie recommendations from Netflix or their Google search results. Customers expect to have access to a community to help them make an informed decision in the same way they do it on Facebook, LinkedIn, or WhatsApp.

Customers expect brands to earn their trust by having a purpose and doing what they promise.

They look at brands like ‘Patagonia’ that is willing to go all the way in their commitment to protecting the environment. Finally, customers expect brands to provide experiences, not just sell products. They look at stores like Target Wonderland, which is part toy store and part holiday playground - but all fun.

The challenge is that most retail experiences are impersonal, disconnected, product-centric, and lack a real mission. They want to meet the new customer expectations, but it requires a digital transformation. Moving from being a caterpillar to digital butterfly is hard. They not only need to invest in technology; they also have to transform the entire operation and culture of the organization. As a result, a transformation is a long-term project for the most part.

What is your burning platform?

• Having customers walk into your store to shop for a flat screen TV, then ordering it through their online via e-commerce site like Kikuu, for instance, simply because they provide a better delivery service?

• Having customers wait 15 minutes at a newspaper kiosk to get a service rep to help them find a magazine - then walking out after realizing that they are better off going online for help, and read from an App like M-paper.

• Having customers go with their kids to a toy store to shop and play - then walking out after realizing that it is just a disorganized warehouse with toys, not a playground.

Nowadays, for example, people go or take their kids to a toy store like the one at Mlimani City for the experience, not just for the products. They want to learn about the latest games. They want to interact with the product at a whole new level; think augmented reality video games.

They want to have fun in the store - and even host birthday parties. They want to engage with knowledgeable employees who are passionate about games. They want frictionless experiences that bridge the online and the physical world.

The challenge is that most companies respond to their burning platform with technology first, customer second. They undertake a massive investment in technology that takes years to materialize, as opposed to testing new customer experiences. That might not scale first, but it would provide a solid foundation for the future In summary, we all have a burning platform, points of friction with our customers that are burning our business. The burning platform is not going away; it just evolves with changing customer expectations. The best thing that we can do to respond to the burning platform is to have a culture of on-going testing and learning to move at the speed of our customers.


Innocent Swai is content director for MobiAd Africa Tanzania Ltd