It has been nearly a century since the era of industrial revolution popularized mass production, assembly line manufacturing and standardisation. The world saw a socio-economic upheaval where many jobs of craftsmanship vanished, machines took over manufacturing processes, and standards were developed for tools, machines, products, processes and quality. Economies of scale brought down the time to manufacture, cycle time to bring an idea into fruition; defects in the final product reduced; accidents and hazards could be prevented. Also, the cost of manufacturing came down. As the world economy has improved, there are discerning customers who have unique needs and high involvement with the requirements. We tailor-make the offerings – a product or a service for that discerning customer!
Numerous opportunities to Tailor-make:
As a result of standardisation, we have a little to differentiate between products and their features, whether it is a cola, a laptop, an ice-cream, health insurance, credit card or a cab hailing app. So, marketing techniques are coming of age to identify a target set of customers, build a positive draw among them towards the offering and help the brand position itself in a manner appealing to the target audience. Often the unique value proposition is not in terms of product features but in the way the company delivers the offering, engages with the customer and builds an ecosystem to accentuate the impact of the purchase.
Henry Ford spoke about Model T, “You can have any colour you like, so long as it’s black”. That was assembly line manufacturing and the world has lapped it up. A century later, more and more companies are experimenting customised offering for the discerning customer.
Can I have a laptop from Dell that meets my requirement, a smart phone from Apple that’s made just for me, a pair of glasses from Ray Ban that suits my lifestyle, a car from Volkswagen with a set of features that I need, cosmetics from L’Oreal just for me, a watch from Rolex just for me, medicine from Pfizer made to treat my physical condition, lessons in Harvard that suits my level of intellect and interest, my preferred breakfast at any Taj Hotel I go to? Opportunities are endless!
Are we ready?
Levi’s has carried out experiments to customize jeans for their customers, once in late nineties and second time in early 2000’s. Dell has mass customised its laptops very successfully in the past. There are many more examples where the customer picks and chooses items from a long list of possibilities and designs something unique for himself or herself. The possibilities run into thousands and hence, it is not very easy for all customers to make the right choices. Hence, companies have to design methods to deliver a wow experience to the customer. The methods have to keep pace with what a typical customer of theirs looks for, such as convenience, un-intrusiveness, expertise, history, track record, brand image, speed of action, responsiveness and so on. It’s clearly a tall order.
The organization trying to offer customized stuff needs a certain kind of human resources who are passionate about customer experience, knowledgeable in the domain and can engage with the customers meaningfully. Secondly, it needs to have the culture of engaging customers to discover their needs and developing a solution that delivers value. Top leaders in the company have to demonstrate this commitment by personal examples. Moreover, the organization has to build systems and processes to listen to customers, act on those voices and continuously develop its value delivery.
Technology isn’t the panacea.
Often we hear technology such as artificial intelligence can help in offering personalized services to customers, gathering their voice and analysing the results. Many companies have deployed bots and automation tools to improve user experience. All of these help but they are not the silver bullet to achieve the goal. The real value is created when one is able to meaningfully engage with a customer. As technology has become an integrated part of our lives, many customers are tired of automation and dehumanization. They look for a human interface rather than talking to a faceless system or a black box.
Secondly, the cost of delivering a personalized product or service is huge compared to mass production. An organization has to be sure that the customer recognizes the value delivered by such an offering and is willing to pay for the same. Else, you launch the product or service ahead of its time, weaken yourself by exhausting your resources too soon, expose your idea to be improvised by the others at a later date and risk losing the first-mover advantage.
Right time and Right place are essential for the customized economy to take off for your organization!