Many of the world’s leading companies have achieved success by creating a culture of customer-centricity and putting it front and centre of the way in which they do business. By focusing tirelessly and single-mindedly on their customers, brands such as Amazon, Apple and Netflix have built world-class businesses by continuously listening to prospects and customers, meeting their needs, and driving engagement and advocacy.
As digital businesses they are able to do this in large part because of the significant volumes of data generated by interactions with customers and prospects which, when used effectively, provide the means for achieving and consolidating competitive advantage.
It is this, of course, which traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ companies (either explicitly or implicitly) seek to emulate when embarking on the process of digital transformation. And yet, the results often don’t match expectations; research suggests that as few as 14% of CMO’s actually regard their businesses as customer-centric.
So, what can leaders embarking on the transformation process do to ensure success?
1. Provide clear direction
Consumer-centricity is a mindset, and so boards who make it their central focus are more likely to preside over a successful transformation, drive real change, and start delivering better shareholder returns.
If the main topic of conversation around the board table is consistently all about your customers, what you do for them, and how you can do it better, then you are already half-way there.
If not, the starting point is to begin to think about consumer-centricity as a way of establishing core purpose and how to embed this in organisational values. Brands with an intimate understanding of their customers, their needs, and their goals, stand a far better chance of working out where they fit in and how they can help their customers achieve those goals.
Translating this into hard measures can also play an important role and serve as a powerful way to drive change at all levels. In practical terms this means defining a core customer metric (and identifying key drivers) and adding it as a central KPI to the company scorecard, linked to all levels of the business. Achieving clarity in this way can be important from a management perspective both on a symbolic and a practical level.
2. Link purpose to activity
In practical terms, this can be linked directly to individual and team performance via targets and incentives, providing a direct and symbiotic connection between strategy and day-to-day activity. It can potentially be a highly effective way to focus minds on the customer, generate an interest in customer data and insights, and maintain motivation to continuously look for ways to ‘shift the dial’ in all areas of the business.
Carefully constructed, customer-centric based incentives can also provide the means by which to start to rank the value of different activities, helping teams prioritise and even informing organisational and process design.
3. Empower your teams
Remarkably, whilst the language of customer-centricity is almost always adopted as part of the transformation process, the means by which to understand the customer is sometimes given less emphasis. And yet it is here, perhaps more than anywhere else, where brands have the greatest opportunity to catch up quickly and level the competitive playing field.
Culture is key. True customer-centricity depends on people at all levels and across functions being knowledgeable about the customer base, comfortable and fluent in discussing and using customer data, and able to access the information they need with ease and at speed. This can be facilitated by the right distributive platforms, and backed up by multi-disciplinary customer insight specialists acting as internal consultants to provide advice and to help navigate complex data sets from disparate sources.
Powerful storytelling has a vital role to play. Arguably this has never been more important but at the same time, it has also never been so difficult against a back drop of an increasingly complex surfeit of customer data from an expanding range of sources. To get there, organisations are increasingly recognising the need for C-suite representation which has seen the rise of the role of the Chief Customer Officer to provide a centralised, comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and promote a common language.
Providing the right tools across the organisation is also critical. A foundational customer segmentation, for example, is a time-proven way of bringing customer data to life whilst providing the means by which teams can understand and navigate complex data in a productive way. But utility is imperative here - in order to really fulfil its purpose, this needs to be based on lifetime customer value with a focus on future spending in order to really help teams achieve their objectives effectively and in line with strategic goals. It should also be designed for effective use across different platforms and data sets.
Technology is an enabler. Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are fast replacing other systems as central data hubs, combining multiple complex data sets from (including transactional/financial, web and mobile, research/profiling, campaign and CRM data) to provide a single, 360-degree customer view. Not only does this provide the basis for the tools which can empower the organisation to identify future opportunities faster and more accurately; persistent customer IDs combined with deeper insights, when integrated operationally, also lead to better customer experiences (on and off-line) and more effective marketing.
The list is by no-means exhaustive, and achieving authentic customer-centricity requires a thoughtful, detailed re-wiring of the business supported by a genuine determination to achieve lasting change and a willingness to invest. But the rewards can be significant, helping you grow your business, improve profitability, and increase operational efficiency.