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Working Backwards

In the era where consumers have taken power away from brands because of the ease of sharing in social media, the phrase “customer-centric” dominates in conversation.

Design schools, product development, research and development groups have altered their thinking and are first starting with the customer. Referred to as working backwards, every business should be examining this new approach. Hank Armor, CEO of NACS gave his annual address this week in Atlanta where his primary topic was the concept of “working backwards”. He stated that this simply meant “the defined benefits to the end user [customer] are defined before any project can be initiated”. He suggested the first step is to write a press release announcing what success looks like.

Last week, media was buzzing with the rumor that Amazon was opening up convenience stores. Stores that would carry traditional convenience items as well as customer orders (because same day and next day service is expensive, among other factors). Amazon is famous for “working backwards” and their success speaks for this approach itself.

The thinking “working backwards” helps in two ways. First, it creates a razor focus on customer benefit. If there is no defined customer benefit then the initiative should be rethought or canned. The second benefit is it makes you think of the customer story including the journey to get the goods. Having this clear narrative is helpful to all stakeholders including employees and partners where everyone becomes connected to the vision, purpose and expected outcome.

Convenience stores have many new retail competitors that are especially trying to solve impulse needs. W hether the customer is on a “planned purchase” or is seeking a quick fix, convenience stores and all retail for that matter, have to stop thinking about which format they prefer to shop – and focus on how to be relevant to their local consumer needs and wants. Working backwards, customers don’t think retail format first – they think of how to solve and satisfy their needs.