Observe and win!
Customer centricity is fashionable, and it’s more than just a buzzword. Only by developing customer-driven products can manufacturers pave the way for their assured and successful future. But what at first sounds simple and easy is, in practice, a complex process. That’s because it is not necessary to satisfy every one of our customers’ needs and wants, and also because only very few customers tell us which needs we can satisfy when or how –not even our most loyal Vorwerk customers. Rather, it is up to us to observe instead of just asking.
As Vice President of Product Management, I face this challenge on a daily basis and have summarized in four facts the practical Vorwerk approach to customer centricity.
“The customer is king” – “of course,” you will now be saying. There’s nothing new about this piece of wisdom, which is why many companies claim to have always been customer-centric. But in reality, it’s a little more complicated than that. For sure, customer focus is as old as the economic history of humankind, but the digital possibilities that now exist are radically changing customers’ relationship to a brand. Today, an unsatisfactory experience with a product leads more quickly to frustration and a change of brand. The aim must therefore be to make operation of increasingly complex products increasingly intuitive for the customer and at the same time to anticipate the customer’s needs. But how can this be achieved?
That the customer experiences our product at home is one of our great strengths here at Vorwerk. Thanks to our direct selling teams, customers can test a Kobold vacuum cleaner or the Thermomix®right where they would also like to use them. We would naturally like to offer our customers a variety of touch points where they can get to know our products, touch points that today’s customers have come to expect. That we have repositioned ourselves with online shops and stores in German city centers testifies to one of the many lessons we have already learned regarding customer centricity. However, the Thermomix®, in particular, shows that online is not the answer to every question because you cannot see simply by looking at it that it actually combines 12 functions in a single appliance and that preparing meals with it can be fun. During a Thermomix® cooking experience, on the other hand, customers really can experience its benefits first hand.
“Ask and win!” You often see this sentence when reading about customer centricity and customer needs and wishes. But it really should be “observe and win.” Generally speaking, customers cannot articulate their daily needs at all, let alone name a potential solution to their problem. That’s why the right market research is the key to success. The trick is to bundle the right information gleaned from market research, to ask the right big data questions [t1] and to record the needs and wishes of customers locally to deduce the relevant needs and solutions to them. Delivering recipes and step-by-step instructions straight to the Thermomix® was, for example, the perfect solution for all the people who previously had to keep on going back to consult their cookbook and losing time and sometimes also track of what they were doing as a result. A customer need was identified here and thanks to modern, digital technology, a simple solution provided.
Technology and digitalization actually play an elementary role in customer centricity because more and more often, they are becoming key selling points for prospective buyers. This is already evident with automobiles, where connectivity has joined the classic buying criteria, such as engine power and brand. But we also see it now in kitchen appliances, such as the Thermomix®, where connectivity with the Internet of Things is a significant USP. In the future, the desire for interconnected products will increase significantly, not stopping at our Kobold cleaning products. However, this applies only if the technology is convenience-oriented, satisfying the need for simplicity and time saving, like that already featured in our VR300[HA2] Robot Vacuum Cleaner, which reduces the users’ workload and which they can operate remotely when on the move thanks to app control. Senseless gimmick features, on the other hand, will soon disappear from the market.
Applying convenience and trends from other product and service sectors to our own product portfolio is a further challenge of customer centricity. But that doesn’t mean we have to follow every trend or satisfy every customer wish. Customer centricity in no way means “EVERYTHING for the customer,” you see. It’s all about getting the balance right, about quality instead of quantity. Sustainable, successful companies need enduring business cases and also profitable revenues if they are to continue investing in innovative and customer-centric solutions.
holds a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering and joined Vorwerk 18 years ago. Since then, he has been involved in several areas of product development. After working as a project manager on various Kobold appliances and the Thermomix TM5, Hackert was Head of Vorwerk Advance Development for two years. As Vice President of Product Management at Vorwerk International, he has now been responsible for the development of the product portfolio of the Kobold brand for some two years.