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5 Pillars to Future-Proof your Customer Relations

It is never about the technology itself, but about the consequences of the technology.

Technology is a central part of tomorrow’s customer relationships. In recent years, new opportunities have emerged that allow us to approach customers in a way that is better than ever. This trend will continue in the coming years.

The main question remains: how does the market handle this technology? And more importantly, how is technology changing the market’s expectations?

In other words, what matters is not the technology, but the consequences of the technology.

However, the reality is that if you are unable to handle the technology properly, it is difficult to win the market’s heart and business.

Over the past years, I have had the pleasure to visit more than 200 companies to talk about their customer strategy. These companies are based in Silicon Valley, New York, Shanghai, Singapore, Belgium, Netherlands, Dublin, Berlin, and London. Most are new style businesses, organizations with a customer approach that is more advanced than what we are used to ourselves. I have summarised the findings of this fascinating journey in the following slide deck.

Based on input from these 200 companies, I came up with 5 elements that are essential for building a future-proof customer strategy.

5 pillars future-proof customer relations


1. Mobile First

Although it seems like a matter of course, very few companies actually take the mobile first approach.

Many currently see mobile first as making content available on a smaller screen, but that is not what it is about. It is about a new way of life for consumers. It is about new services and interfaces that are easier than ever before.

During our visit to Zalando, we were surprised to hear that 56% of the Zalando turnover comes from mobile devices (phones and tablets together). That is pretty solid.

Netflix told us that 40% of streaming takes place on mobile devices, compared to 0% three or four years ago.

netfix mobile first approach

Why are Zalando, Netflix, and Facebook so successful? Because they have truly responded to the mobile first philosophy, without any compromises.


2. Data Expertise

Traditional market research has become too slow for this fast-paced world.

Consumers are also finding it difficult to assess what their behavior will be in a certain context. Hence the accelerating trend towards consumer science: a philosophy in which the consumers are always right – not based on their opinions, but on their behavior.

Netflix is undoubtedly the best example of this. In early 2016, Netflix had about 75 million users and included all its users in a consumer test. Netflix continuously tests new templates and interfaces. The goal is to increase the number of streaming hours because that has the greatest impact on loyalty.

At meetings, Netflix does not want to find out which employees are right. It organizes tests in which the consumer is always right. That eliminates any elements of ego and hierarchy from the major customers’ debate.

streaming platforms market share

Data is now no longer just a digital product. Data is also increasingly linked to physical products. That is why it is necessary to treat our understanding of this data as a science. Soon products will actually come to life thanks to sensors.

This is not a data game, it is a game in which we can understand the consumer better than ever and in which the consumer always wins the argument.


3. Boundless experiences

User experiences are independent of place and time. Experiences are frictionless.

I am convinced that Uber owes a great deal of its success to its payment process. You simply don’t have to make a payment. It just happens, automatically. Invisibly.

Samsung is working on its next generation of products. By 2020, all Samsung products (and they really have a lot of products) will be connected with each other and with the network. The objective is that families have to think less or even not at all about their smaller, operational household activities.

samsung frictionless user experience map
Tim Baxter, Samsung CEO, on stage at CES 2018 (Image Source: Samsung, mobilesyrup)

This kind of automated service completely blurs the boundaries of what is physical, what is digital and what is customer experience.


4. Platform thinking

Gaining market share is more important than ever. More and more markets have become ‘winner takes (almost) all’ markets.

It is crucial to grab the biggest market share as soon as possible. That is also the reason why many start-ups are not interested in making a profit during the most extreme growth phase. Market share is their biggest priority. If they succeed at that, profit will come.

The best way to gain market share quickly is to build a platform. Amazon,, YouTube, Nest, etc. are all platform players.

Nest is known as a manufacturer of smoke alarms and smart thermostats, but it is actually a very clever platform player. Just about every major manufacturer of electronic household items now works with the Nest platform. They use Nest’s knowledge to make their products more relevant and they are enabling Nest to grow faster than ever before.

Zalando’s long-term strategy is heading in that direction as well. Zalando literally says: “We want to be the Amazon Web Services of e-commerce”. Zalando has so much knowledge about e-commerce, it is going to build a platform that other retailers can use to run their e-commerce.

Despite its billion-euro business, Zalando sees even greater potential in the platform game.


5. Participation

The last cornerstone of a future-proof customer strategy is the involvement of both employees and customers.

To keep employees on board, a form of radical transparency is required.

Companies like Google and Facebook organize a presentation and question time with the company founders every week. Every week!

Most companies I work for have no more than 2 or 3 occasions a year when the CEO speaks to the employees, usually in a very formal setting.

At Google and Facebook, anyone can have a conversation with the founders and ask all sorts of questions on a weekly basis.

They get a weekly update on the company’s projects and status. This builds higher-than-average commitment.


And finally, sweeping ambition!

Make no mistake: if the customer service is not optimal or not keeping up with the times, it does not matter what your ambition is.

The market will first judge the vitality of your customer relationship.

Secondly, there is the relationship with the employees. At the end of the day, customers want to be able to follow a story. They want to follow the story of your ambition.

We have now visited Space X twice, one of Elon Musk’s companies. Its ambition is to colonize Mars and get 1 million people to Mars as soon as possible. If you follow Space X and Elon Musk, it seems as though you are watching a film about the company.

Good and bad news is shared. The ambition has become the company’s marketing.

If you succeed at that, the market really hopes you will succeed at your larger goal.

It is essential to tackle a global problem that people can identify with. A company like Bloom Technologies does this really beautifully.

Bloom makes a sensor for pregnant women that allows them to monitor their baby themselves in real time at home. It wants to counter the global problem of infant mortality to keep moms and babies healthier.

Now isn’t that a great goal? The market believes its story and it becomes a success.



We hope you find some inspiration. If you have other experiences yourself, feel free to share them. This is the beginning of a process of reflection.


This article was originally featured on the blog of Steven van Belleghem

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Steven van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in a digital world. He is a thought leader in the transformation of customer relations and the future of marketing, inspiring companies to become truly customer-centric organizations in this high-speed digital world. He is a popular speaker at home and abroad taking his audience on a journey to the world of modern customer relationships in a clever, enthusiastic and inspiring way.

Steven is also the author of four bestselling books. He became known for his first book, The Conversation Manager, which won the award for most innovative marketing book of 2010. Steven also wrote The Conversation Company, When Digital Becomes Human (best marketing book of 2015) and his most recent book, Customers The Day After Tomorrow. Over 100,000 copies of his books were sold and they are published in 7 languages. Customers the day after tomorrow is nominated for the award of best international business book.

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