New customer service

In a new era of design, the future prosperity of creative businesses might be found in the design of business itself. Ralph Ardill explains the theory

The design industry can often seem fragmented, diverse and bewildering, but we can all draw some comfort from trying to make a living against a backdrop of ‘universal’ business realities.

Global markets are getting more crowded and competitive. Technology is driving faster production of increasingly similar products. Brands chase smaller slices of shrinking markets – at higher cost, for lower margins. And empowered consumers are becoming less brand loyal, more brand-savvy, hungry for better experiences and are buying on price.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In responding to these challenges our clients are embracing innovation and creativity to help design the future success of their businesses. Innovation to develop new business models, new brand portfolio strategies, new products, services and experiences along with completely new communication models and channels for developing relationships with consumers.

Driving our clients’ endeavours is a renewed sense of customer-centricity, not only in their marketing departments, but also throughout their organisations to help understand the role of brands in modern society. Resulting in the appreciation of a ‘new consumer’ that many of us will be familiar with.

Someone who’s an active participant not a passive target, an individual wanting their own product not everyone else’s, and an advocate more than a buyer. Someone whose decisions are increasingly influenced by their hearts – and someone who is not only transacting with their hard-earned cash, but equally with their highly valued time, information and attention-span. Someone just like you and me.

And just as the universal business realities also apply to the design community, so is the need for us to develop a new appreciation of our own ‘consumers’. It’s just that we rarely see businesses in terms of ‘serving our customers’, preferring instead to talk about ‘working for clients’. Maybe it’s because of the perceived distance between them that designclient relations

• The design industry faces the same ‘New World’ business challenges as its clients

• Clients are transforming themselves by a ‘holistic’ commitment to customer-centricity

• Consultancies must see clients as ‘customers’ and seek to change their total ‘customer experience’

• This requires commitment from the top, particularly from creative talent

• Perhaps the design group of the future will specialise in design of the businessers develop a flawed understanding of their clients, which prohibits a successful relationship developing. But don’t forget, clients are people, as well as our customers.

Our clients demand ‘inspiring work that works’, but now they also want chemistry, understanding, loyalty, trust, integrity, passion… these are just a few of the qualities that are increasingly becoming the ‘hire or fire’ issues for clients.

As designers we constantly think about how to design better communication, products or services to build stronger relationships between our clients’ brands and their customers, but how much time do we spend developing ‘new consumer’ insight into our own clients to help us drive and innovate the ‘customer experience’? Not enough, I suspect. Our industry needs to harness its full creative potential to design a new generation of truly customer-driven creative businesses.

This is too important to be left to marketing, account management or business development – as has traditionally been the case – but requires leadership from the top. The re-purposing of consultancy creative talent to drive the design of a new generation of customer-driven creative businesses may not be as unusual, or indeed as restricted to the design and marketing services sector, as you think.

In the 20th century, our clients competed in traditional, scale-intensive industries and created wealth by getting better at doing the same thing for the masses. In the 21st century they increasingly compete in non-traditional, imagination-intensive industries creating solutions for individuals. It’s no longer about getting better, but about being different, relevant and meaningful. So now, it seems, many global brands are embracing the characteristics of a progressive and successful design-type business.

They’re redesigning and transforming their organisations to create business environments where design and business skills converge, work becomes more project-based and focused on finding elegant solutions to complex problems, entrepreneurial and multidisciplinary teamworking becomes commonplace and where a more creative mode of thinking is coming into play to ‘explore what might be’.

In this new world of business our clients don’t just need to understand designers better, they need to be designers – leveraging the power of design in its fullest sense throughout their organisations.

All of which is encouraging for the future of the design, where we can move from the design of ‘things’ to the design of businesses. Where both client and consultancy alike are fit for a purpose and can flourish and thrive. It’s an exciting challenge.

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