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Crossing lines

Five companies crossing industry lines to transform customer experience


Some ambitious brands are so committed to solving their customers' problems that they will leave the comfort zone of their core offering to do so. Here are five inspirational examples. 

11th Jan 2021
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I recently wrote an article for talking about how it is time for brands to not just look at customer journeys, but instead work to make themselves an unavoidable ‘Life Partner.’

There are several strategies you can follow to become such a ‘Partner in Life’, but one of the most effective is where companies leave the comfort zone of their core offering to really start solving the entire problem. Dutch insurance company Centraal Beheer is a great example, offering to sell ànd install smoke detectors and other types of in-house equipment so that their customers can comply with the insurance requirements.

Often, this approach of leaving the core business to solve a wider problem means venturing into and blending with different industries. This can be a daunting and confusing prospect - but here are five companies that are crossing industry lines to offer better experiences to their customers that will hopefully provide a little inspiration.

From telco to mobile payments

The idea of crossing the industry lines to benefit customers is not a new one, and one of my favourite older examples is how telco companies Vodafone and Safaricom launched M-Pesa. This was a mobile-based payment service targeting the un-banked, pre-pay mobile users, allowing them to send and receive money through its agents, who act as “human ATMs.” It started as a public and private sector collaboration in 2005 in Kenya on a pilot basis, but it has subsequently been expanded to Tanzania, Mozambique, DRC, Lesotho, Ghana, Egypt, Afghanistan and South Africa.

What Vodafone and Safaricom cleverly understood was that many Africans were still restricted by a lack of access to bank accounts or credit cards, but their mobile phones had penetrated the African market successfully. M-Pesa is not just about offering a better experience to the customers of Vodafone and Safaricom, their innovation allowed them to bypass one of the biggest problems of 21st century telcos – the dumb pipe syndrome, where the operator’s network is being used simply to transfer bytes between the customer’s device and the internet, without ‘owning’ any data or really understanding their customers anymore. M-Pesa is not only a very lucrative business for Vodafone and Safaricom, it also offers them many insights into the African market.

From banking to the sports industry

Bank and insurance company KBC recently announced it would buy the rights to broadcast soccer games via its mobile banking app, showing the highlights of the Jupiler Pro League over the next five seasons. This ‘Goal Alert’ service is free for customers with a so-called ‘plus account’, while other customers and those who are not KBC customers, the service will cost no more than ‘the price of one cheeseburger per month.’

So why would a bank venture into the sports and entertainment industry? Because today’s consumer is tired of having 10 different apps for 10 different services. They want everything available in one convenient interface and KBC is willingly complying in that area, extending the services in their app to go beyond banking and insurance adding the possibility to also buy train tickets or parking via their app.

It is of course partly offering their customer a better experience, but above all, it’s a clever step in the quest for becoming a “super-app.” The Chinese WeChat is the best example of this model, allowing instant messaging, sharing life events, pre-ordering food from a restaurant, booking taxis, giving directions, booking movie tickets or buying clothes all withing the same interface.

This means that users spend an incredible amount of time on the WeChat app, so the company knows so much about its users it can constantly improve its services, and become even more addictive.

From retail to healthcare

“Walmart has always existed to help people save money so that they can live better, and now we don’t just want to help them live better but live healthier,” Walmart’s chief medical officer Dr. Tom Van Gilder explained about the expansion of Walmart’s healthcare services. It’s a deceivingly simple explanation, but the strategy here is to centralise as many essential services as possible in its offering. It’s the same super-approach as WeChat, but in a different environment.

Walmart has always existed to help people save money so that they can live better, and now we don’t just want to help them live better but live healthier.

The idea behind the Walmart Health services is to offer an affordable and accessible alternative for those who need routine medical care, such as a visit to a doctor or a dentist, a health screening or even mental health counselling. On top of that it also offers free online wellness courses.

The healthcare sector is currently one of the most disrupted industries, with many tech-related companies trying to grab a piece of the pie, including Apple, Google and IBM. It’s only logical as healthcare data offers so much (pretty intimate) insights about consumers, so Walmart’s move makes a lot of sense.

From car manufacturing to building a smart city

Toyota’s Woven City is expected to appear in 2021 at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Japan. This ambitious “living laboratory” prototype is set to observe how residents will live and interact with next-generation technology, self-driving automobiles and a broad array of connected devices. Perhaps the most interesting part of Woven City is that it will feature a central “digital operating system” that connects all these smart and autonomous devices. The company managing the city’s operating system will obviously be able to amass a huge amount of valuable data about its inhabitants.

On top of that, the lifespan for the model of individually owned transportation is ending, so it makes a lot of sense that car companies like Toyota are investigating how they can turn megatrends – like urbanisation, environmentalism, an ageing society, changing mobility, robotics, sustainable energy, autonomy, 5G connectivity, AI and IoT – to their advantage.

From internet advertising to education

Internet and advertising giant Google recently made an announcement that could impact the future of work and higher education. Google Career Certificates are a selection of professional courses teaching the skills needed for in-demand jobs, starting with Data Analysis, Project Management and UX Design. Having Google on a CV may soon offer just as much prestige as a university, and maybe even more in terms of job skills.

Instead of taking years to finish and costing absurd amounts of money, like a traditional university degree, these courses can be completed in just six months at the cost of hundreds of dollars rather than thousands. On top of that, and unlike college, Google won’t just hand you a diploma and send you away – it promises to assist graduates in their job searches, connecting them with a consortium of over 50 employers such as Intel, Bank of America, Hulu, Walmart, and Best Buy.

Why would Google make this move? The obvious answer is to attract smart young people in the ruthless war for talent, while further strengthening ties with big companies like Walmart, Intel and Hulu. But for Google, the answer is nearly always data – offering education will allow the company to understand how people learn and process information better.

These examples are such a testament to human creativity. Brands are finding better ways to solve real problems and making life more convenient for customers – I hope they inspire you to look around and think about how you can solve “the whole problem” for your customers too. Even if it means moving out of the comfort of your own industry.

Steven van Belleghem is one of the world’s leading thought-leaders, speakers and authors on customer engagement. His new book, The Offer You Can’t Refuse is out now

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