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Digital Maturity Insight

What it means to be customer centric

by Redweb, 30 June 2020

Read Time: 5 minutes

Do all organisations care enough about their customers to really understand them? Many would answer this with a firm ‘yes’, recognising, that to gain a clear understanding of their customers’ is essential to the survival of most brands.

How many organisations can say they deliver excellent customer experiences with complete assurance? Perhaps a long pause was needed to answer that honestly. Perhaps the answer came too quickly and should be reconsidered.

It is important for the survival of any organisation or business to take an honest and searching inventory of all products, services and operations in order to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented today. Designing digital services with insight and purpose, places the user at the centre of all initiatives and brands in the hearts and minds of their customers. Translating into an increase in customer lifetime value.

The emergence of digital services has empowered customers with information and choice. Brands need to work smarter to create and increase customer retention and be ready to adapt to market changes. The discerning customer has learned to sift through a crowded market by utilising the many tools available online, to inform purchase decisions. Organisations need to understand their customers on a behavioural and emotional level in order to remain competitive, improve the customer lifetime value and survive when a disruptor enters the market.

What is customer centricity? Blake Morgan, senior contributor to Forbes, writes that:

Being customer centric is about more than just offering a good product or staffing a contact centre. It becomes a cultural way of life for the company and impacts everything from employee engagement to customer experience.

Employee culture is a critical factor in defining a customer centric organisation, as the workers are the ones responsible for delivering the standards set. Determining whether an employee is the right cultural fit for the vision of an organisation is becoming popular when recruiting and managing performance, as technical skills and experience has been traditionally. You can train skills, it’s arguably much harder to change personal attitudes.

How can an organisation know if it is customer centric? What is a customer centric approach? The inventory to take, is to ask whether your organisation is creating exceptional, customer experiences through product market fit and delivery.

As we’ve seen with the success of Uber, Netflix and Amazon, to name a few in recent years, truly customer-centric businesses have not only disrupted, they’ve obliterated the market. Amazon hasn’t just re-written the standard on customer experience, it’s used customer data and innovation to deliver and predict what customers will want before they know they want it. The Amazon Prime service is a great example of recognising the customer need for reliable next day delivery. We can’t all be Amazon, but we can learn from the approach of being customer centric.

As Henry Ford (allegedly) put it:

If I had asked what people wanted, they would have said faster horses.

This quote has often been used to demonstrate that the customer isn’t always right, but that’s only half true. By listening to the customers’ want of a faster mode of transportation, he could innovate beyond ordinary expectations.

Ford was able to differentiate between what the customer wanted and what the customer actually needed. Customer-focused organisations tend to deliver what a customer ‘wants’, reactively without really understanding what they ‘need’. This is arguably the subtle difference between being customer focused and customer centric. To be customer-centric is to provide products and services, before the customer knows they want them, fulfilling the ‘need’ or Clayton Christensen’s ‘job to be done’ in an innovative way.

Not taking a tech first approach

We won’t bore you with the endless examples of the way digital technology has changed and improved our lives. As the science fiction author and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke once said

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

– while somewhat fantastical, it’s a fitting description. The sheer creativity of the digital revolution of the past 20 years is mind-blowing. However as with all revolutions there are casualties and, at times, the casualty is the user or customer – because the technology is lauded over the customer experience.

As designers, innovators and perhaps even magicians, we must ensure that tech solutions do not become paramount. Building for the sake of building, rather than interrogating the need and the purpose of tool, is a sure way of creating solutions to problems that probably don’t exist. This damages profit and is inefficient to any business and frustrating for a customer. The magicians of the world design solutions (not tech) with an understanding of what the customer needs at the centre.

Continual Customer Research

Gone are the days when customer surveys were taken periodically. Assuming customers were happy to answer, “a few short questions”. Customer research should not be considered a periodic undertaking. It should be implemented into the very core of an organisation, monitoring quality and customer satisfaction on an ongoing basis and as part of the aftercare process, integral to ensuring that products and services are delivering to expected standards. Measuring Customer Value in this way, allows an organisation to discover patterns in what’s working and what’s not and respond rather than react.

Digital transformation has given consumers numerous platforms to feedback what they feel or think about a product or service on an almost continual basis, so organisations need to be listening and designing around what they hear.

The Nielsen Norman Group suggest the “majority of your user research should be qualitative”, but interestingly that “Testing 5 people lets you find almost as many usability problems as you’d find using many more test participants…with some exceptions”. So, there’s really no excuse for an organisation to avoid research. If you want to be customer-centric, you will need to adopt a systematic approach to collecting insights to inform your design process and achieve more. The benefits? Delighting and retaining your customers.

Ensuring fast responses and follow ups to customer feedback

With all the opportunities for customers to feedback their thoughts and feelings – often very publicly on review sites – customer-centric organisations are prepared and ready. They actively encourage users to engage with their brand by leaving reviews and giving feedback. By doing so, a customer-centric organisation can achieve between 2-4% sales growth with every 50 reviews (Chaffey 2019).

Negative reviews, fair or not, will have a detrimental impact on a brand and will need to be addressed quickly and appropriately rather than ignored. The recent #sonosboycott on Twitter being a great example of a PR nightmare. Customers expected more longevity from their speakers and Sonos communicated the changes to the service they were providing poorly, in an email.

Customer-centric organisations are prepared to respond empathetically, exhibiting a willingness to listen and make amends when at fault. Or in some cases, defend themselves against unfair comments (often to the sound of applause).

Eloquent and entertaining responses to customers often go viral and create a wave of free and positive publicity for businesses – The customer isn’t always right.

Respecting and trusting the customer in what they say and do

Customer-centric organisations value their customers beyond purchasing power. It isn’t simply about getting more money from them. Customer-centric organisations do not want to engage in price wars with competing services. Instead, they nurture their customers, fostering mutual trust. They want to understand their customers and do better. Likewise, the customer feels appreciated and inclined to remain loyal, particularly if the brand continues to innovate products and services based around their needs and wants.

The skincare brand Sand and Sky, founded by sisters Sarah and Emily Hamilton, did this particularly well. From product development to the utilisation of beauty vloggers and encouraging customers to post videos using the product, the brand sold 60,000 units in the first 3 months and 800,000 face masks worldwide within 2 years. Changing their customers into advocates of the brand – which is the ultimate goal.

Data also feeds into this. How we harness the data to create insights and prove assumptions about our customers is how we create meaningful experiences for them. See our report ‘Establish Credibility Through Data’ for further information on this subject.

We need to continually challenge what we know – and what we think we know – about our customers. The data we collect needs to extend beyond the personal and demographics. To be customer-centric is to form a relationship with customers, one that includes two-way dialogue. We ask, you tell us, we listen, understand and implement solutions to the problems at hand. It is discovering the need, that is the real juice of the fruit.

Understanding end-to-end customer journeys

So, we see already that to be customer-centric requires a multi-faceted approach to delivering the right products and services to delight the customer. Increasingly marketeers need to understand what the customer is trying to do. The job to be done. The goal. When you understand this, you can envisage the journey the customer takes to get there. The motivations, the pains and the feelings along the way. Data doesn’t lie, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story either.

At times, we need to step away from the numbers and technicalities and really get to grips with the experience the customer goes through. We need to have empathy and understanding for the customer and take a human-centred design approach to delivering services. Steve Cannon, CEO of AMB group goes as far as to say

Customer experience better be at the top of your list when it comes to priorities in your organisation. Customer experience is the new marketing.

Committing to policies and processes to continually improve customer experience

Surprisingly, many organisations still fail to prioritise every touchpoint a customer encounters with a service, or to recognise the importance and value to be gained from taking a high-level service view. As Oliver Huang, Research Director at Gartner says, “You must win at every interaction the customer has with your organisation”. Getting this right will reduce churn rate and expand your customer base.

Customers are more informed and have more choice than ever before, and brand loyalty is dependent on either a good or bad experience. Billionaire Warren Buffett puts it succinctly:

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

But with limited resource and budgets, how does a business prioritise what to spend and what to improve first? Understanding and agreement on the ‘problems to be solved’ is a crucial step in designing better services. Alignment across leadership and employees will foster a culture and ethos that supports great customer experiences. If every touchpoint of a customer journey is important, every person within a business has a role to play in delivering exceptional services.

So, we need a holistic, design-oriented approach to delivering great customer experiences online and offline. We need to know our customers. Really know them, then step into their shoes to discover ways to delight them. The devil really is in the detail and often the most effective solution is the simplest one. Sounds simple, but by no means easy. Identifying the opportunities for improvement is the real skill, not necessarily the solution itself. Research, immersion, objectivity and asking the right (and sometimes difficult) questions is what will keep a business evolving and thriving.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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