Do you work for a business that has prioritised the need to become customer-centric? If the answer is ‘no’ then it is a fair bet that over the next year or two it could very well become a ‘yes’. That is why everyone needs to get their heads around what it is and what it means for the business, regardless as to whether you have customer-centricity as a stated business priority today or not.

However, you may be wondering what is meant by customer-centricity. Surely every business is customer-centric by definition as it only exists to sell products and services to customers? While that is true, it is also a fact that very few businesses are actually customer-centric. Instead they are product-centric. In other words, they are focussed on how they can create and sell their products and services to potential or existing customers. In determining what they can sell, the decision is approached from a position of what customers think about the product or service that either exists or that the company is considering creating. This is assuming that any research is done at all.

In a customer-centric world, the opposite approach is taken. In a customer-centric culture, the company starts by engaging with the customers about what they need which is within the remit of the business to produce or deliver. However, customer-centricity in relation to the product or service offering is only the beginning.

Customer-centricity also involves the way the business engages with its customers. While businesses are already struggling with how it applies to their product and service offerings, they are predominantly lost at sea when it comes to implications for customer engagement.

To be customer-centric when it comes to how you engage with your customers means viewing all your communications beyond just the positive return on investment for the business and considering the negative impact on the customer. A 2% return rate on a DM campaign could mean 98% of those receiving that DM are annoyed – it might not, but in a customer-centric world you would ensure it does not through a robust contact strategy. In a customer-centric world you would appreciate that a communication at the beginning of the customer’s actual buying journey should follow-through into future engagements such as in the contact centre. Finally, a customer-centric piece of content within a communication would always have relevance and interest for the customer at its heart, and not simply the objective of pushing the company’s products and services.

From a customer’s point of view, these components of a customer-centric approach are such common-sense that the average person on the street would wonder what all the fuss is about. But the point is that this is new and the reason it is emerging as a priority now is because businesses are closer to and more accountable to their customers than ever before. And the reason for that can be pinned on the door of digital.

We now live in a hyper-media world where businesses can no longer get away with broadcasting their products and services at their customers. The channels for reaching their customers have ballooned in number. The ability for customers to provide feedback, reviews and commentary exists in a way that never existed before – and, of course, social media has played a huge role in that. But more than that, there is now an absolute expectation that companies will behave in a customer-centric manner and if they do not then customers will see that as a reason to vote with their feet and go elsewhere.

However, let’s not get too focussed on the negative. It is not simply that bad things will happen to businesses that do not adopt a customer-centric approach. Not yet anyway. Instead, it is firstly a competitive advantage for those businesses that take a first mover position and secondly it is more likely to support business growth.

It is too simplistic to say that when it comes to the products and services you are offering today or developing for the future that if they are driven from customer desire rather than what you think customers will buy, then you are more likely to sell them. The ability for customer-centricity to drive growth is far more than that.

Within our area of focus – namely, the ability to create intelligent customer engagement that drives customer-centricity – it is about creating a far superior form of engagement than your business has today. By being customer-centric you will be engaging with your customers and not simply broadcasting at them. More importantly, you will be engaging with them in a way that sustains that engagement with a commercial purpose. By being customer-centric you will understand their motivations for starting the buying journey and most importantly why they actually bought your products or service. That is something businesses simply do not know today about their customer and that is because the systems and processes do not support capturing that sort of information or the ability to pass it on between different communications silos.

Becoming a customer-centric business will therefore unlock a better engagement with customers that will have direct commercial return. It will also spur the emergence of commercial marketing which will turn the nature of the marketing function within a business on its head.