Most companies believe they are “customer-obsessed” but sadly, their practices don’t reflect it. Customer obsession, as a corporate goal, has attained tier-one status (as it should). But achieving a true customer-obsessed culture isn’t so simple. It requires deep appreciation and commitment not only to the concept, but also to the specific practices and investments that are required.
A long-form definition of customer obsession is “the outside-in business approach that uses data-driven insights to increase the lifetime value of customers by continuously providing them with quality and meaningful experiences.” In simpler terms, it means passionately understanding and anticipating your customers’ needs, even before they are aware of them.
Many organizations confuse customer obsession with customer focus. Admirably, they base their critical decision-making on customer attitudes and needs. But, as world-class companies like Apple and Amazon have shown, true obsession takes the pursuit to an entirely different level. In terms of studying their customers, internalizing the insights and then inventing new ways to delight buyers, these companies have no equal.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos credits his company’s customer-obsessed mindset for such innovations as Amazon Prime, the Kindle e-reader, one-click purchasing, Alexa virtual assistant and Amazon Web Services. Apple’s resurgence two decades ago, beginning with the iPod and then the iPhone and iPad, has been credited to Steve Jobs’ obsession with the user experience. Ritz-Carlton, Trader Joes, Costco and Netflix are just a few others that have leapfrogged their competitors through customer obsession.
Without fail, these companies have certain traits that make their commitment to customer obsession possible. Let’s take a closer look at the three most important traits:
360-Degree View of the Customer
If the ultimate goal of customer obsession is to introduce innovations that meet customer needs before they ask you for the solutions, there must be an overarching commitment to data.
Customer data comes in many forms. Demographics, psychographics, purchase records, device preferences, shopping habits, content preferences and pain points are just a few examples that can be used to inform personas and journeys through data. Taken together, they help a business identify, relate to and create the right experiences for its customers.
Customer data is drawn from first-, second- and third-party sources. First-party data comes from within the organization. It originates with the company’s own customers, which naturally makes it less assumptive but more difficult to populate at a large scale. This is why second- and third-party sources are also needed for companies of varying sizes.
Essentially, second-party data is someone else’s first-party data. Often it’s primary data about the company’s current or prospective customers, taken from an outside source. Marketing partners (e.g., airlines and rental companies) commonly share data for mutual benefit.
Third-party data comes from independent providers with no direct connection. For example, databases like Dun & Bradstreet provide information by industry or category, as does Adobe Analytics through its libraries of data. A wide spectrum of sources, tools and datasets ensures that all types of businesses are accommodated regardless of size, including user testing and survey tools for SMBs.
The job of the organization is to turn all this data into an all-encompassing view of the customer. It’s critical to learn lifestyles, channel preferences, behavioral tendencies—every aspect of the customer as an individual. Doing this requires a second imperative:
An Investment in MarTech
Data alone will not ensure a customer-obsessed mindset. Organizations must commit themselves to assembling the right marketing technology, particularly in analytics, to derive disruptive insight.
The place to begin is with an infrastructure assessment. A full inventory of the martech stack will uncover gaps in capabilities and services, pointing the enterprise to correct strategic investments. For most organizations, a Customer Data Platform (CDP) forms the technological core of their customer-obsession focus. CDPs enable marketers to link together data from disparate sources, in order to define their customers within a single platform.
Many of today’s most advanced CDPs incorporate artificial intelligence technology to provide predictive analytics. This capability can be invaluable for true customer obsession, combining multiple sources of data (first-, second- and third-party) for maximum benefit.
A Committed Culture
The final key is the right organizational mindset. Silos must disappear and cross-team collaboration must be increased. Data and technology may uncover insight—but those insights must be acted upon by multiple teams, from creative and customer support to product development and sales, to achieve the desired success.
Change begins at the top, with leaders who believe in a full and lasting commitment to customer obsession. Next, the organization needs to build out a roadmap to its new destination by involving all stakeholders—including IT, marketing, finance, product development, operations and HR to ensure everyone is on board. It will take a sustained effort, along with investments in staff, tools and methods, to get on the right path.
The effort, however, is worth it because customer obsession has both external and internal benefits. It has been proven to improve corporate performance and preserve brand relevance. In a world of instant gratification, where anything we want can be delivered to us in a few hours, brands need to stay in the conversation. Customer obsession can help ensure that relevance.
Customer obsession also improves operational efficiency. It has a way of taking down walls between departments and giving teams a common focus. In critical times like these, when the planet is consumed with social, economic and public health concerns, companies that are farther along in their digital maturity and customer understanding will have an easier time of pivoting to meet their customers’ changing priorities.
In summary, a successful transition to a customer-obsessed approach can’t be a single event. It must define the very character of an organization. It will never be implemented through a piece of software or a dataset. It’s not one and done. There is a constant, iterative process to customer obsession. As your customers grow and change, you must not only grow and change with them, but also stay one step ahead.
Today the world is filled with challenges. In times like these, customer obsession may appear to be something that can be delayed until more pressing concerns have been addressed. But, as successful companies have shown, customer obsession is what enables those organizations to thrive. What’s more, it is increasingly used as the yardstick by which customers are measuring the appeal of every brand, including yours. It’s time to make a serious commitment to customer obsession—and give your organization the strength it needs to succeed.