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Get Disruption Ready: Five tips for Customer Centricity

In our last post in this series, we talked about the five key corporate capabilities to focus on when building disruption readiness for your organisation. In this post, we cover one of these: how to focus on building Customer Centricity.

While it has become a watch word in the digital age, in many cases Customer Centricity only goes skin deep by driving outcomes that are purely technical gimmicks. Examples of companies which have the customer at the centre of their strategy, and generate great success as a result, include Apple, Amazon and Qantas. Their success is pinned to an approach that ensures the customer is represented – through focus groups, advocates or select, friendly customers – when setting the strategy.

When this approach works, an organisation can enable change that affects what products and services it does (and doesn’t) offer, how those products and services work, and how they communicate with customers. Forces that can work against customer centricity are what ails some organisations struggling to respond to disruption in their markets – cost, profit, hubris, and arrogance.

In practical terms, you don’t have to be a giant company to enable customer centricity in your organisation. Here are five tips we suggest can work for you when building this corporate capability.

  1. Identify your ideal customer. Many organisations have customers who are not well-suited to their products or services, and vice-versa. Listening to what these customers think is wrong with your products and services can take you in one of two directions: to make new products and services that appeal to new customers, or to stop taking on the customers you don’t want, allowing you to focus on the ones you do. A strategic aphorism that applies well here is: “do one thing, well.” – in other words, don’t try and be all things to all customers.
  2. Think like a customer. If you were a customer, would you buy what your company sells? This is a great question to consider: if your product is something your staff could buy, would they? Finding out why, or why not, is an excellent process to follow, because it quickly surfaces issues that the buying public may have with your product or service, without the need to survey. It could be that people inside your business, who are target customers you are trying to reach, already have some great ideas to improve your service or product. Tapping into this is cost-effective, and empowering for your teams as well.
  3. Have a customer advocate at the table. Many decisions inside companies are made without direct regard to how they might affect customers. Someone at the decision-making table should take on the role of a customer; it could be the same person each time, or the role might move around. This advocate considers decisions that are being made from a customer perspective. This approach can prevent decisions that make life hard for customers, make products more expensive, or make changes seem confusing or wrong, if not properly communicated. The simple question that could be asked is: “what would the customer think about this?”
  4. Get feedback at every step. Customers, or would-be customers can be great sounding boards as you develop or change products and services. Involvement can be through forums, round-tables, less-formal events, soft-launches, pilots or surveys; the main thing is, the best people to test your ideas on may be existing customers. The process of involving customers in the design process can help build loyalty, as well. On the flipside, value the time customers spend to help you. Many companies try and get lots of live feedback from their processes or products – to the point of annoying customers with too many surveys. Consider when and where to ask for feedback, and only do it when necessary.
  5. Provide a channel for ongoing feedback. Modern customers, especially in the B2C space, expect to be able to interact with companies online, through social channels, and through feedback forms and email. Have all these channels open, and manned, by people expert at customer service and with a constantly positive attitude. Think of all the social media disasters that happen when twitter storms break out over something relatively trivial. But, most importantly: listen to the feedback and make positive steps towards improvement. Being able to keep customers in the loop or announcing changes as a result of customer feedback is also great for brand building and internal morale.

It’s about the culture

In organisations where service has been a problem for a long time, it can be easy for an ‘us and them’ attitude to build up, that justifies poor behaviour and bad service to customers. For leaders, rooting out and defusing this cultural influence is key to turning the mindset around. Moving to a mindset of having the customer at the centre of everything you do is a long journey for some organisations, or even industries – but the disruptive players are usually getting it right while other incumbents can take longer to change, losing market share as they do.

Start at the top

A board and executive team who are customer-focused can demonstrate good customer discipline. Demonstrated from the top down, leaders should be happy to get in the trenches, listen to customers, and show how good service is delivered. This is inspiring to everyone in the organisation who deep down, just wants to help. Once customers start to see a change in direction, they might give you the chance you need to catch up to newcomers; and they can become your organisation’s strongest advocates and recommenders, bringing you new customers and revenue.

It really is true: if you look after your customers well, doing business becomes that much easier, more rewarding, and even… fun.

Anthony Woodward is founder and Chief Executive Officer of Accelera