In conversation with Oliver Frömmer on “Customer Obsession”


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2016)

There are ever more touchpoints, new business models and sales concepts, increasing product diversity, internationalisation, exciting design ideas and marketing approaches. Observing and assessing these developments and optimising your own business model in line with them is no easy feat for companies – however, the current challenge is something completely different: traders have to orient their offerings and processes specifically on the customer. Basically, you have to be downright “customer-obsessed”.

What exactly does “customer obsession” mean?

At its core, it is about offering the customer a seamless shopping experience, removing the barriers between the digital and offline worlds. Customers expect their needs to be met precisely, all-round personalisation and a consistent shopping experience across all touchpoints. To be able to guarantee this as a provider, you must basically be obsessed with the customer; in other words, display customer obsession. Therefore, growing with the customer is only possible for those who understand satisfying all customer needs as their remit.

To what extent has customer behaviour changed over the past few years?

Today, customers are mobile, digital and international, while simultaneously being comprehensively informed and more demanding than ever before. And it is precisely here that manufacturers and traders have to change their way of thinking: it is not the channel that is decisive, but each and every touchpoint. It is not necessarily the cheapest offer that is guaranteed a sale, it is moreover the provider who understands the customer and offers him or her a comfortable and, above all, personalised shopping experience who has the best chance of success.

Which companies do you believe have already achieved this?

Amazon is definitely one of them. In customer surveys, the company is perennially considered one of the best providers. Here, the costs are not the primary issue, but rather the benefit to the customer. There has been much speculation about the sense of Amazon-owned stores. More than others, however, the company has understood that there is no distinction between the digital and offline worlds in the minds of customers. At the end of July, Jeff Bezos responded to the question “What is Amazon today? A technology company, a retail company, a company that does everything?” in an interview on the German newspaper “Die Welt” as follows: “What we do is dependent on technology. If I had to choose a definition, then I would say it is a ‘customer company’, a company that serves the customer. The main reason we were so successful is our obsession with satisfying consumers more than our competitors. Working hard to satisfy customers: this is what generates our energy, not the battle with the competition. This is our secret.” However, I believe that the majority of companies still has a long way to go.

How do you become customer-obsessed?

First and foremost, it is a question of attitude. As a provider, you have to want it – better still, internalise it. Implementing the necessary measures requires comprehensive knowledge of your own customer relationships. It is plain and simply about digitalising the personal sales pitch. Of course, this has to do with usability and shopping experience, but – just like in a sales pitch – you have to find the right words and the right arguments in the digital world as well. And this requires an understanding of the customer and customer proximity. So, you need comprehensive knowledge about the customers and their respective customer journeys within the context of your offerings. Only those who almost obsessively pursue the expectations and the journeys of the customer will be able to create appropriate offerings for them.

How can you transport the personal into the digital age?

Trade has its origins in personal communication. Goods were touted even back in ancient times – and ultimately bartered or sold. Although customers today no longer remember how things were done in antiquity, they do remember the omnipresent corner shop, where the proprietor would greet all customers personally. Based on the personal relationship, the owner was able to present offerings that were truly appropriate for the customer. Today – around 30 years after discount retailers and supermarkets virtually replaced this sales culture and digital business models are receiving an increasingly large share of business –, this personal relationship no longer exists. However, the desire for personal offerings has by no means decreased since the age of the corner shop. For companies, this means one thing above all: transporting the personal into the digital age and communicating information that is actually relevant to customers. You do this by collecting and collating knowledge on the needs and the behaviour of the customer. What are the customer’s socio-demographic characteristics? What has the customer already purchased, clicked on or downloaded? The entire spectrum of customer data – whether by means of tracking, shopping history or customer pitches – is then usually bundled in a CRM system under the heading Big Data. Based on this, user profiles of the most frequent customer types, so-called personas, can be created – with all their preferences, interests and habits. A manufacturer or trader can use these criteria to present the persona with the appropriate products and even provide them with product information relevant to them within the product presentation. 

What is the basis for selective provision of product information?

This is the granular maintenance and management of product information within a suitable product information management system. Today, these systems are in part even able to autonomously categorise and index individual information units by keywords and in this way attribute them to user profiles and channels – such as e-mail, print catalogues or on mobile apps in real time, for instance. The result is a customer experience that works across all channels, with which companies can create long-term customer loyalty. Attributing customer need and relevant product information within the PIM system practically generates the “intelligence” for successful, customer-focused trade. Only in this way companies will be able to comply with the requirements and also increase their own relevance with the customer and tap in to further sales potential.

How is your company positioning itself in this regard?

We have been focusing on product data, data models and processes for over 20 years now. We support medium-sized – but also large, well-known and in part internationally-active – companies with their information supply chain management (ISCM); in other words, the way in which data or product information are generated, processed and published within a company. We believe that customer obsession starts with the drafting of product information – namely when the first fragments of information are created around a product. Even at this point, it has to be clear who will be consuming the information and in which context. So the process of how and by whom this information is created is important for the content-related quality of the information. And this decisively influences the customer experience. Our consultants are heavily focused on these processes within the companies and have correspondingly implemented them. Here, the software deployed for the management of product information and which supports – and maybe even monitors – the defined processes within the chain plays a more subordinate role. As a result of numerous projects, we have been able to develop into one of the leading integrators of PIM, MAM and database publishing solutions within the German market. In addition to our consultants, three business units are focused on implementing and adapting such IT solutions. Furthermore, we are part of the United E-Commerce partner network and also use our expertise to implement complex e-commerce projects. In October, we will – in collaboration with our partners – be hosting the “One4” e-commerce event, whose motto is Customer Obsession. 

How do you see the future of trade developing in the long term?

As a consequence of digitalisation, the number of touchpoints through which customers or interested parties will come into contact with products will increase over the coming years – whether in online shops, through online marketplaces, in print and electronic catalogues, on social media platforms, in newsletters, apps or by means of digital displays at the point-of-sale. Just like stationary trade, e-commerce and other forms of trade are subject to profound changes. This relates to B2C and B2B companies in equal measure. Digital transformation is sustainably changing business models – from to-date still simple electronic trade all the way through to trade with “everywhere commerce”, which takes place everywhere and at all times and is simultaneously customer-specific and current.

Oliver Frömmer is a Member of the Management Board at SDZeCOM GmbH & Co. KG, responsible for sales, marketing and the strategic further development of the company. He is also a Member of the Board at United E-Commerce and has been actively working in PIM, MAM and database publishing within the IT service sector for over 20 years now. 

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Numerous customers rely on the know-how of SDZeCOM, which has been a market player since 1995 and has received multiple awards – such as the Innovation Award IT in the Consulting category last year – for innovative and complex projects. 


Picture credits © Luis Molinero/Wepik

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