11/06/2019 | by

Customer preferences have always been in flux—that’s not new. What is different today, however, is the daunting pace at which preferences move from being a distant desire to simply an expectation, according to Rik Reppe, a former principal at PwC and a speaker at Nareit’s 2019 SFO Forum. How companies respond to this changing landscape of expectations—and keep their customers front and center—has been a key focus area for Reppe. 

How do companies keep up with the changing pace of consumer expectations?

Use the tools that are available, especially now that we’ve evolved from big data into artificial intelligence and machine learning. There’s not a good excuse to say we don’t know what our customers want or we’re not sure what’s most important to them. It is knowable on a grand scale and with a level of immediacy that has never been available to us before.

If you’re not aware of those things, you’ve decided that essentially you don’t want to be. 

What makes a company truly customer-centric?

Most businesses in the U.S. and Europe have cultural and organizational models that were all designed to serve a bit of a “if you build it, they will come” mentality, whether it’s a product or a service. As a result, tremendous priority has been placed on efficiency of process and effectiveness of technology. The customer doesn’t exist in those two things. The customer must be brought into that evaluation not as an outcome but as an input. 

Customer-centric organizations have found ways to incorporate design thinking, which is fundamentally human, into that development process. In design thinking you don’t start by asking, “How do I build a better product?” You start with, “What is the purpose of this product?”

What are some of the attributes of companies that are thriving from using new technologies?

Companies that thrive have a culture where experimentation is rewarded, even if it fails. They also have an operating model that allows them to quickly identify what’s working and should be pushed into production, what’s not working but can be revised, or what’s not working and should be replaced with the next idea in the queue. 

There’s a continuous innovation/experimentation structure built in so that the organization doesn’t have to make one big bet and hope it works.

Is there one primary challenge that your clients asked you to solve on a regular basis?

Over the last nine to 12 months, the number one challenge was related to workforce. We heard: “Who should I hire?” and “What kind of training should I do?” 

No company is going anywhere without its employees, but they want the answer to “how do I fix these people?” before they figure out what needs to be fixed. Where we steer them is to first assess their workforce to determine how digitally-savvy they really are. Maybe you’ve got the right people but the wrong digital, or you’re making digital available to them in a way that doesn’t work with the job they have.

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