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What do I need to do differently to be customer-centric?

  • 6 min read

The world of customer-centricity can be split into three camps. Firstly there are those that have embraced the need to transform themselves into a customer-centric business. Then secondly there are those who realise that being customer-centric is more than a cultural and behavioural attitude. Finally there is the third camp which contains the majority of businesses that have not yet come to terms with the compelling need to become customer-centric.

What must be stressed up front about those businesses that have already embraced customer-centricity is that the driver for this is less about reputation and goodwill, and instead revolves around an appreciation that this is the best way to drive growth. Such businesses have recognised that the traditional product-centric view from which they are transitioning inhibits the company’s ability to provide for customers what they actually want. And yet by providing what customers actually want, they are more likely to attract new customers and retain those that they already have. It must be stressed that the definition of what customers want stretches across every aspect of the business from products and services, to customer service, communications, rewards, sponsorship, CSR, and so on.

The starting place for businesses embarking upon the road to customer-centricity tends to be by focussing on culture and behaviour. Making every employee put the needs of the customer first in everything they think, feel or do is, without a doubt, the first challenge to be addressed. Many obstacles stand in the way of such a transformation. These range from the procedural, such as the need for employees to meet existing KPI targets that may not prioritise the needs of the customer, through to the systemic where business as usual prevents people from embracing the need to change.

Ultimately, the drive towards customer-centricity involves an internal transformation journey. However, while a cultural and behavioural shift is essential, such change will prove redundant if the underlying processes, systems and structures are not also addressed.

When it comes to processes, the most obvious way that a business is hamstrung when it comes to transitioning towards true customer-centricity is through the endemic failure to understand what the true customer journey actually is. Virtually all businesses today define the customer journey in terms of their own interaction with the customer and what processes need to be in place to support that journey. However, that is not the customer’s actual journey.

There are many stages to the customer’s actual journey that fall outside of their direct interactions with the business. Although, having said that those aspects of the customer’s actual journey are still taken into account by the business but in a disjointed manner. Take, for example, someone who is on a customer journey to buy a new car. That journey does not start when the person walks into a dealership. Nor does it start when someone goes onto the car manufacturer’s website and downloads a brochure. Those aspects of the customer journey are the stages most likely to have been captured and represented from a process perspective. However, the actual customer journey starts when the potential customer starts thinking about buying a new car.

As mentioned, these unmapped parts of the actual customer journey are probably being addressed through marketing activities or, perhaps, ongoing customer communications. However, it is not joined up with the customer journey process. In a customer-centric world such an omission would not be allowed. In a customer-centric world it is not the existing processes that define the customer journey but the stages the actual customer actually goes through and ensuring that they are supported seamlessly through the organisation.

To differentiate between what your organisation has defined as the customer journey today and what is the actual customer journey, you may wish to think of the latter as the ‘audience journey’. By thinking of the customer as the audience, you can contemplate everything they are doing which may not directly involve your organisation.

This, of course, then comes to the second aspect of customer-centricity that businesses will have to contend with, namely how the actual customer journey can be supported by existing systems. It is a rare company that can hold up its hand and state that its customer engagement systems are not horrendously siloed. The outbound campaign management systems do not, for example, talk to the inbound contact centre systems. And so the list goes on.

The complexity and cost of transitioning away from this current state of affairs may leave many business wondering whether customer-centricity is an ambitious idyll that can never practically be achieved. Conversely, we see the breaking down of these system siloes as being the customer-centricity challenge that can and is being overcome through Intelligent Customer Engagement.

However, the siloed systems are in reality nothing more than a symptom of the siloed structures that exist within any organisation. This is the third and final point about customer-centricity that we need to make because it is not unusual within B2C organisations for as many as half a dozen or more separate functions within a business to be dealing and communicating with customers. And yet those functions do not communicate with one another because there are structural barriers preventing them from doing so. It is similar within B2B businesses where all too often marketing, sales and account management do nothing more than pass on leads manually.

Therefore to become truly customer-centric, businesses need to think beyond cultural change and understand the transformation that is needed from a process, system and structure point of view. This is where the advent of commercial marketing comes into play. Marketing needs to be far more than campaigns, creative and brand. Embracing data and insight is an important step that needs to be taken but ultimately marketing needs to embrace commerciality when it comes to engaging and then progressing the customer through the actual customer journey.

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.