The era of fluidity: How to achieve genuine customer-centricity in a post-CRM world

Andrew Smith is CSO at Partners Andrews Aldridge. Partners is a mix of customer experience specialists, data scientists, creative technologists and technical architects who have in-depth experience across multiple categories.

We’re in the era of fluidity. As the Experience Economy has exploded, there has been a seismic shift in the power base from brands to customers and, with that, a series of dramatic changes in how we enable brands to successfully bond with people. We must now meet emotional, tangible and functional needs seamlessly in every, and any touchpoint the customer desires.

Accompanying this change is a raft of continually emerging technology solutions that can be utilised to plan and deliver the highly connected and personalised ecosystems that are demanded. The true shift in fluidity stems from systems that can unify around individuals rather than channels, ideally a decoupled architecture that separates the interface layer from the platform to maximise touchpoint interaction.

The era of fluidity is powering a change in people’s needs

People are demanding greater knowledge, so they can make informed decisions. Brand belief is increasingly driven by provenance or recommendations. Convenience and immediacy are paramount. Involvement and personal satisfaction from experiences are more important than ownership.

These needs have triggered the growth of sectors that didn’t previously exist, such as food delivery services (Deliveroo), while creating an appetite for completely flexible transport services (Uber) and transparent banking providers (Starling and Monzo). People aren’t just a customer of one brand, but many. Making your brand the regular choice is the challenge.

To remain relevant – brands have to evolve to become truly customer-centric

CRM has died. Conversations tended to start only when people had bought a product or were coerced into a specific ‘reward’ programme. Rigid formats and defined rules of engagement ruled the day. Remember the enforced sign-ups, convoluted processes, waiting hours for confirmation? These were acceptable and effective when people didn’t know any better and were happy with a simple value exchange, typically a financially motivated incentive.

And, as a plethora of brands abused personal data – whether selling to third parties or email bombardment – trust in relationships faltered.

We’ve moved on significantly from ‘managing’ people, seeing a reduction in the value derived from these ‘loyalty programmes’. The importance of end-to-end Customer Experience (CX) has become paramount. Sustained customer growth is being driven by ‘fulfilling needs’; being an enabler and a companion to people’s lives.

Brands that deliver a great CX are increasingly benefiting as a multitude of stats demonstrate. Forrester research proves that making experience your business is good for business. Customer retention increases 1.8x, revenues grow 36% faster, and customer lifetime value grows 1.6x.

How we derive value for customers and brands

Let’s start at a place you’d not expect. A god. In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus is the god of beginnings, transitions, doorways and endings. He looks to the future and the past, presiding over movement and change in what was a time of fluidity. And since movement and change are interconnected, he has a double nature, symbolised in his two headed image.

To succeed and drive business value we need to behave as Janus. One head must be firmly focused on the movement; understanding and fulfilling customer needs. Recognising where the beginning of their journey is, opening doorways to our brand with relevant content, or acknowledging they’ve bought the product they looked at earlier or utilising enhanced functionality best suited to device or platform i.e. voice activation or wearable integration.

Understanding behaviours and needs: There are three core needs we must understand and satisfy; emotional, functional and tangible.

  • Emotional needs are met by experiences that allow individuals to connect with brands – the door openers, either to a new relationship with a brand, or a new product or service from a brand they know. These are immersive experiences that facilitate self-discovery

  • Functional needs are met by experiences designed to make an individual’s life effortless – the transitions. Simpler, faster, easier to find, understand, select and buy

  • Tangible needs are met by touchpoint delivery that is aligned to platform or device expectation and can be digital or physical, resulting in them being much broader than traditional channels.

Acting as a companion on the journey: The Experience Economy is about proving value and justifying your place in an individual’s life. Empowering people with product and service utilities that bring them closer to the brand mean they are less likely to leave. Even in the world of energy you can engage people; remote energy control (heating/lighting etc.) effectively gamifies a previously dull task and gives the brand a sense of purpose on a regular basis.

Employing behavioural economic techniques: The growth of the Experience Economy has proven that people aren’t just rational, emotions play a large part in the decision-making process. Brand relationships – and the requisite value for brands – are formed through a series of complex mental models.

Experiences must be built on solid behavioural science techniques that use heuristics to aid easier decision-making. Placing greater emphasis on understanding how individuals feel at each experience stage drives value by increasing satisfaction. The correct framing of information, anchoring with metal reference points, or chunking content into bite-size chunks can all exponentially increase engagement.

Enabling the experience

The other head must concentrate on the change: deploying and leveraging systems that can unify around individuals rather than channels. Looking to the past to utilise all existing interaction knowledge, deploying bespoke experiences worthy of each touchpoint, or looking to the future to predict the next move to convert a sale without the need for constant redesign and bespoke deployment.

We’ve long talked to clients about the benefits of ‘plug and play’, and APIs have made this a reality. Using a centralised data architecture and utilising an application layer that forms part of the platform, we can integrate multiple technology providers into a single unified view of the data.

Using a big data technology stack, with a data lake storing the data, we can handle large numbers of simultaneous requests for data from multiple end user platforms. This allows for completely headless user interfaces by giving direct access to the data within the SCV.

Customers benefit from a richer experience provided by individual device ecosystems. Brand consistency is easier to achieve across touchpoints and with faster ‘connectivity’ on main platforms, due to considerable speed increases with less data to process, experiences can meet expectations.


In summary, two heads are required to meet the demands of today’s customers. Only businesses connecting both the customer and the infrastructure together will win; two heads are definitely better than one. There are five core tenets which, if met, enable us to derive value:

1. Understanding behaviours and needs

2. Acting as a companion on the journey

3. Employing behavioural economics techniques

4. Designing a flexible data architecture

5. Deploying a decoupled technology infrastructure

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