“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
I love this quote by Mario Andretti, one of the world’s most successful race car drivers, and a fellow Italian. Winning the race to meet customer expectations has become more challenging with increased demand for long term benefits, real-time 24/7 customer service, and a personalized brand experience that adapts to the lifestyle of the customer.
In this climate, the real winners in business are the “platform businesses,” which facilitate exchanges between two or more interdependent groups, usually consumers and producers. A platform helps these exchanges by harnessing and creating large, scalable networks of users and resources that can then be accessed on demand.
In this context, a platform refers to a holistic business model, not any specific technology. Platform businesses, like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, are quick to iterate, continuously improving the quality of their customer experience. They outpace the competition by creating a competitive advantage in three main areas:
Leveraging data fully to drive a better customer experience
Delivering a personalized experience by connecting all key users active on the platform
Enabling a continuous feedback loop for the entire business ecosystem to drive innovation
Let’s break down each of these advantages.
Leverage the full power of customer data
The practice to define and understand the customer with qualitative and quantitative research (ideally refined with psychographic data on their preferences, attitudes, and behaviors) is no longer enough for a sustainable competitive advantage.
Consumer research maintains a certain level of bias imparting this individual response:
In qualitative consumer research, individuals are impacted by group dynamics and/or individuals segment themselves into subgroups, forming a minority that is not always representative.
In a quantitative study, individuals are impacted by the knowledge that they are part of an experiment.
Business platforms now set new standards in elevating the customer experience by leveraging first-party data to overcome bias and the limitations of consumer research. Therefore, businesses should utilize a continuous measurement feedback loop to improve, refine, and evolve the customer journey.
Amazon provides one of the best examples of unlocking the full power of first-party data. Its ability to acquire new first-party data at scale, and to directly communicate with customers within the platform experience, means Amazon can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their brand building and commerce activities. The quantity and quality of its first-party data (recently enriched with Whole Foods’ offline data) enables Amazon to continuously improve customers’ experience on its platform. Having a deeper understanding of the customer not only yields more meaningful connections, but now empowers brands to anticipate customer needs.
Personalize customer experiences
To win customers' hearts and minds, businesses need to leverage an integrated view of customer activity, and breakdown traditional organizational silos across functions, data, systems, and solutions. The following foundations are critically important to enable a personalized customer experience:
Understand the role and relevance of key online and offline touchpoints in the customer journey
Develop content for specific touchpoints
Collect data from every customer interaction in a comprehensive data strategyPlatform businesses are leveraging fully integrated and frictionless business models based on an integrated view of the customer, stripping out time, cost and opacity, and continuously increasing personalization and automation. Their ecosystem is enabling the right type of interactions and personalized experiences for all stakeholders.
Uber disrupted the transportation business by creating a platform where private car owners can offer a convenient, integrated, and mobile-ready rideshare experience to the public. The platform drives continuous improvement of the service by creating competition among drivers for the timely start and completion of their service and ensures the quality of the overall customer experience through ratings and reviews. Over the years, Uber has made changes that have included different service offerings (choice of the type of car or Uber pool) as well as introduced route algorithms to increase drive-time and cost efficiency, thus increasing their share of the transportation market.
Business platforms can increase trust with consumers while still providing superior customer insights and the enablement of dynamic new models of collaboration. Their ability to maintain a start-up mindset and to connect and anonymize data, systems, solutions, and stakeholders in real-time and in full transparency make their competitive advantage sustainable over time. How? By fueling real-time learnings supported by data security, continuous improvement, and innovation.
For example, in 2016, while experts debated the viability of autonomous vehicles, Uber acquired the autonomous-trucking startup, Otto. Shortly thereafter, Uber completed the first self-driving 18-wheeler delivery — of 50 thousand cans of Budweiser. Since then, Uber has used their learnings to further the viability of the technology, improve autonomous vehicle safety practices, and strengthened their partnerships with local governments.
Businesses can be a platform if they are powered by a platform
The competitive landscape is challenging and only getting more so, but success in the marketplace is possible for businesses ready to rethink their end-to-end operations.
In fact, this was my journey during my time at Nestle Waters North America. My experience there led Nestle to launch the Consumer Engagement Center in 2016 with Salesforce, which evolved how we approached our demand generation operations. It's even more exciting now that I’m at Salesforce, ready to partner with our customers to leverage platform and cloud solutions that will accelerate their business transformation.