Deloitte Access Economics has recently surveyed more than 500 small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), investigating the current business landscape. One of the key findings of the Opportunities for Today’s Small Business report is that SME owners believe the most significant customer trends anticipated over the next five years will centre on improving value for customers. This focus on customer-centricity is considered by SMEs as more important than technology-based customer trends (such as leveraging the sharing economy) and megatrends (such as the ageing population).

Customisation is sitting at the top of the priority list, so here’s what I believe is driving this demand, some practical steps to get started and what I think SMEs need to know to ensure success.

Why customisation is more important than ever


The business environment is rapidly changing. Technology has enabled customers to have access to a greater range of products, which means they have more choice – and power – than ever before. Twenty years ago, you’d tell the customer what you stocked and they’d buy the thing that was the closest match to what they were after – they didn’t have many other options. Now, customers can shop online from anywhere in the world. They can compare 20 different versions of a product in minutes and decide which one is the best fit for them.

This surge in choice means that if you’re not customising your products and services to individually suit a customer’s needs, they can (and will) go find exactly what they’re after elsewhere.

In the Deloitte report, small business also identified the increased importance of customer experience as the second most significant customer trend, which is closely connected to customisation – both are a byproduct of the increased need for customer-centricity.

Getting started


The best place to start on any customisation journey is to provide your customers with a voice, a direct line of communication with your business. It’s only by listening to your customers that you can get a true understanding of their wants and needs, and then decide whether you can fulfil them or not. Here’s a rundown of how we do that.

Deciding whether customisation is right for your business


In certain instances, customisation might not make business sense. If you have a physical product, customisation can be very expensive – it may not be achievable.

The danger with customisation is that you can get pulled off in all different directions, so you need to be careful not to lose sight of what your business stands for, and decide early on how far you want to go. If you commit to all of your customer demands, your product or service could very easily turn into a disaster.

It’s also worth looking at your competition. If you have a captive audience that can’t get your products or services elsewhere, then there’s probably no need for customisation at this stage.

Also, customisation may not be the best business strategy if you’re the expert in your product category – particularly if it’s a product that you’ve brought to market. In this case, you’re in a position to educate your customers on the benefits of the product configuration the way it is and the negative impact customisation might have.

Mass customisation: balancing flexibility with process


One of the most critical considerations is striking the right balance between process and flexibility. You need to be flexible to deliver on your customers’ individual needs, but you also need the processes that ensure a great customer experience. Too much flexibility can put pressure on your business model, increase the cost of business and cause discontent among employees.

One of the easiest places to insert flexibility into the process is through the use technology that enables the process to be changed without losing its core objectives and production to be easily scaled.

It's harder to be flexible where people are involved in the delivery process. Employees typically need some level of consistency to feel comfortable and confident in doing their job. They shouldn’t be having to adapt too much, and change too much, within the process, because uncertainty in job roles can breed bad work culture and a bad customer experience.

Ultimately, embedding the right business processes to support customisation is critical. If you customise your products and services but compromise on quality, you’re back to square one.

Four types of customisation, and how to get them right


In this video, Adrian Towsey talks about the business processes needed to ensure success in customisation.

Keep reading about the digital trends currently impacting small business. Download the full Deloitte Digital Opportunities for Today's Small Business report.

Adrian Towsey is Regional Vice President – ESMB Sales at Salesforce. He spends his days helping Salesforce customers run lean and execute smartly, because he loves making big ideas super profitable. Read more from Adrian.