The Art of Being Truly Customer Centric

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Customer centricity is a culture of putting the customer at the centre of everything you do” – Brian Solis

A few years ago, with the rise of social media, many organisations thought that social media was the Holy Grail in marketing. Social media would solve all the problems and customers would be at the centre of each organisation. While social media has absolutely enabled customers to interact easier, better, faster and more-often with organisations and it has enabled organisations to know more about their customers, it has not resulted in truly customer-centric organisations. For that, one important aspect was missing: the capability of combining and analysing all data that was created during those interactions and to link it with other data within the organisation.
In today’s competitive environment, customer centricity is not aspirational – it’s essential. In such a dynamic marketplace, only customer centric businesses can thrive.

What does Customer Centricity Mean?

Clayton Christensen, professor at Harvard Business School and a five time recipient of the McKinsey Award for Harvard Business Review’s best article shares the story of Dell and Asus in his latest bestseller book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” He says that Asus started at the low end by providing Dell with reliable circuits. Then Asus came to Dell and said “Look we do a great job of providing reliable circuits. Let us supply you with motherboards, we’re good at that. And we will lower your costs by 20%.” Dell folks agreed and Asus delivered on their promise.

Later Asus came to Dell and said “Look, we’ve done a great job on the motherboards. Let us assemble the whole computer for you. We can do that well and do it for 20% less cost.” The Dell folks agreed. The process continued and Asus got Dell to agree to outsource its supply chain. And later even the design of its computers. Eventually, Asus did pretty much everything for Dell. In a way Asus implemented the customer centric approach which is – meeting as many needs of Dell as possible.

Matthew Kinsman, the CEO of Base Creative and an expert on customer relationship building says the Dell-Asus example showcases one of the most fundamental requirements of a successful customer-centric businesses – identifying what your customer needs before they figure it out themselves. He says, “Dell’s value proposition was to provide quality hardware to end customers at affordable prices. Asus figured the way to do this much before Dell could. If they had not managed it, Asus would have just been one of the several vendors Dell deals with. Their customer-centricity helped them one-up their competitors in securing a larger business partnership with Dell.”

Put simply, creating a customer-centric culture is all about understanding your value proposition and delivering it to customers in a way that will immensely improve their own business or personal needs. This doesn’t mean doing everything that customers want. Rather, it means focusing on what they value most, in line with your overall business strategy and brand promise. For example, the most important thing for a budget airline customer is price. While passengers might like extra leg room, they don’t want it at the expense of low airfares. In a global survey by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, 56% of companies described themselves as customer centric. Only 12% of their customers agreed.

Big Data to the Rescue!

Fortunately, the Big Data era that we have entered will help in creating a truly singular view of the customer. From now on organisations have no excuse anymore to put the customer at the centre of all decisions, such customer centric organisation should build an operating model around a deep understanding of its customers, what they value, and the contribution, or the customer life-time-value, that each customer makes to the profitability of the organisation. However, this is not easy to achieve as often still, every department has a different view of who the customer is. This should be prevented at all the times. For data-driven, information-centric organisations no department should ‘own’ the customer, or the data, and all should have the same view of who the customer is. This will ensure better customer interactions across all channels and departments.
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A data-centric approach, instead of a process centric / product centric / channel centric / service centric approach will eventually result in customer centricity across the entire organisation, but it requires a culture that places the customer at the heart of decision-making processes. Such an alignment and integration of data, technology, processes and people should therefore become the main focus point for companies that want to create truly 360-degrees view of the customer.

Thus combining data from social networks, online surveys, click behaviour as well sales data, public data and open data can help create detailed personas and micro segments to better know and target your customers and hence improve conversion and increase sales. Data is therefore the lifeblood of any organisation and the future of truly unique 1:1 customer experiences lies in data centricity. Undoubtedly a data centric approach is the need of the hour for creating a customer centric organisation.

To sum it up in Steve Job’s words –

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.

What’s your take? Chime in with your thoughts below.

Rohit Yadav
Axtria Inc
Rohit Yadav is a customer experience evangelist helping companies identify and make the best use of their key performance indicators and generate insights to improve their customer experience. Rohit is a regular writer on technology, analytics and customer centricity for various leading forums like KDnuggets, Data Science Central, CX Journey, Analytics India Magazine, MyCustomer.com and CustomerThink.com.

6 COMMENTS

  1. In Plato’s Gorgias, written in 465 BCE, he has Socrates moderate a debate between two students. The subject is whether rhetoric is an art or a science. Socrates believes that what are claimed to be arts, such as cooking and beautification, are actually “knacks”, the blending of art and science. That’s where Plato nets out in Gorgias.

    From my experience, stakeholder-centricity, or customer-centricity if you like, is much like that. Your post doesn’t address the necessary cultural ingredient of people, the employee ambassadorship so necessary to have an effective stakeholder-centric culture. Data centricity and understanding the value proposition are important, but they are not nearly enough. Employees represent both the art and the scientific tools of stakeholder-centricity, and they must be included in any discussion of this topic..

  2. Interesting post but my takeaway is this: As a customer, I am not my data. You might know my address, preferences, birthday, buying patterns, etc., but they are not me. They are simply facts and figures–data–about me. I do not think you are putting the customer in the center; you are putting the customer’s information in the center. Here is the way a friend of mine put it:

    “They installed this new customer information and relationship management system so all my correspondence from them is now tailored––they even knew my son was heading off to college this year. Now, when I call and give them my account number, they comment on the fact that I have a new Buick, financed by their loan department. But all that is just mechanized data. When I walk in any branch no one acts like they know me or even wants to get to know me! Give me back old fashioned personal service, not this customized information baloney. It’s no more genuine than the ATM.”

  3. Chip, attitude is everything. How do we change mind set….not with data. But any of the steps like data brings our process closer to customer centricity
    Second, Chip, I want personalised service, but the new generation wants no “personalised’ hassles…they are comfortable with machines.
    This is the power of manipulation by companies to change attitudes of customers by invisible manipulation. See my article
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/invisible-manipulation-gautam-mahajan

  4. Great post Rohit. In my opinion, Customer Centricity whilst being an aspiration, is usually no ,more than hollow words coming out of the mouths of business leaders around the world When I ask employees of organisations I work with – do you regularly make decisions with the customers interests in mind – they usually shake their heads. Not because they do not want to – but because the culture of the organisation does not enable them to.

    I recently conducted some research of my own on the subject – you can view it here – http://www.ijgolding.com/2016/06/14/customer-experience-commitment-2016-customer-centricity-research-findings/

    To be genuinely, authentically Customer Centric, an organisation MUST believe in its people and in the will of the organisation to do what is right for the customer in the knowledge that doing so will deliver sustainable growth.

  5. Rohit, this is a wonderful post if you are active in the B2C world. However, the Asus/Dell story is a great example of how the B2B relationship requires a strong relationship coupled with a customer-centric mindset. There was no need for Big Data or personas or any of that stuff. It required a deep understanding of your customer’s desired outcomes (providing reliable computers at a low cost) and your own capabilities (creating reliable products at low cost).

    Actually, I believe that lumping all businesses into one group does a disservice to each. As my British friends say “Horses for courses”.

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