Customer Centricity: Starting to ‘Walk the Walk’

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I recently had a negative experience with a product that I purchased from a very large online retailer. The product description stated that it was “new,” so I paid a premium because it was a rare item. However, upon receipt, I realized right away that the item was in fact not new, but rather had been used and re-wrapped in plastic wrap. I immediately reached out to this retailer to explain my frustration and, within four hours, I had a response from the customer care team that started with an apology, stated their aspiration to be known as the most customer-centric organization in the world, and ended with an explanation of the actions that they would take to resolve my issue: completely refunding my money and providing me with alternatives to purchase the item brand new.

Wow. I was completely blown away by the promptness and service level, and ultimately the solution. But perhaps what was more surprising is that, following that exchange, I didn’t get a survey immediately afterward asking me for my feedback. As a customer, I’ve grown to expect a survey request following every engagement or transaction. And in most instances, I’m frustrated that I’m giving feedback to prevent the exact solution that companies are asking for survey participation about. But in this instance, I actually wanted to complete a survey to give praise to the individual who expertly handled my situation.

While I often question companies’ methods when they’re asking customers for feedback while offering little to no evidence of how this feedback will be put to use, I’m even more curious about what these organizations mean when they say that they want to be customer-centric. How do these companies actually define customer centricity?

To me, being customer-centric means that you place your customers’ outcomes first, and that your decisions, products and services are aimed at assisting your customers in achieving those outcomes. It means that when important business decisions and strategies are being discussed, your customers are “present” because your organization has invested time and resources in developing a deep customer understanding that’s represented in those discussions. It also means taking action on those insights with the customers’ best interests and outcomes in mind, not just talking about it.

Defining Customer Centricity in Your Terms

Beyond aligning on a common definition, organizations need to align their expectations for the steps that they’ll take to become customer-centric. If your organization strives to be a leader in customer centricity, I would challenge you to evaluate your company on three factors:

  1. Your organization’s level of customer intimacy: How well do you really know your customers? It’s important to understand what motivates and drives your customers to make decisions. Take an inventory of your current customer understanding and develop a plan to fill the gaps. Do you employ feedback collection mechanisms beyond surveys? Try employing a new approach to gathering inputs or feedback from your customers that’s not invasive to the organic experience. Do you truly listen and learn from your customers? Examine your insights engine to find new opportunities to engage the organization with the customers’ point of view.
  2. Accountability for customer-centric actions: Who’s responsible for ensuring that your customers have great experiences with your company or brand? If your organization truly wants to become customer-centric, it’s critical to empower every employee to deliver great experiences. Employees should not be afraid to do right by your customers, and it should be celebrated when someone goes above and beyond to take care of a customer regardless of level or position. But let’s just be clear: I’m not advocating for a carte blanche approach in which all employees can do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, but every employee should feel empowered to right a wrong or raise customer concerns to his superiors. To get started, try creating a customer experience reward program that celebrates and recognizes the team members who put customers first and go above and beyond to resolve a customer issue.
  3. Customer “presence” in business decisions: How does the voice of the customer show up in your boardroom or strategic planning session? Some organizations invite their strategic accounts to join their strategic planning conversations, but this isn’t the norm. More likely than not, it falls to the sales organization to share anecdotes and hopefully a marketing or customer insights team to provide research and insights, but what if that isn’t the case at your organization? A creative idea that I’ve seen one client use is to actually label a chair or seat as “customer” and encourage everyone in the room to consider his or her decisions from a customer’s point of view. I would encourage you to always assign a customer advocate for each strategic planning or decision-making session whose sole responsibility is to represent the voice of the customer in the process.

Thinking back on my surprisingly positive experience with the online retailer, I can’t help but believe that my experience is a result of the organization having deep customer intimacy, clear accountability for action, and a very present customer voice in key business decisions. What actions is your organization taking to “walk the walk” of customer centricity?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Rachael Travis
Rachael Travis is a manager at ZS in Chicago. Rachael works with clients to design and execute customer insights-driven growth strategies, sales force effectiveness and transformation projects. These efforts include understanding the voice of the customer, segmentation and targeting, sizing and structuring the sales force, and workshop design and facilitation. Rachael holds a B.S. in chemistry and life sciences from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Rachael is currently pursuing her MBA at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

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