There is a lot of discussion around customer-centricity and what an organization needs to do to shift its positioning to one that is inherently around the customers’ needs and not fundamentally product-centric. This has only increased in importance since consumers have become more digitally-savvy with higher expectations from brands since the advent of the pandemic. Today, 39% of consumers who experience out-of-stock items will switch brands instead of waiting for something to come back in stock, according to a survey from McKinsey. The discussion around customer-centricity tends to be around a few major areas.
The Typical Customer-Centric Discussion Points
First is the technology discussion. What are the tools and platforms required to not only understand the customer in detail and over time, but to be able to take that data and use it to tailor the customer experience and trigger moments during the customer journey? Second it is a data discussion. How do you ingest and integrate disparate data together to understand the customer across all channels over time? Next is the skills and talent needed to operate the technology, as well as glean insights from the analytics to make informed decisions that benefit the customer. Third is the modern agile processes that are needed to react to real-time data and deep analytics to align internal resources and teams to focus on the customer. Finally, it is the leadership and culture that get mentioned last typically, recognizing that without the right people up top supporting such systemic change to the way business is done, any digital transformation will fail due to cultural constraints.
When these areas of discussion are brought up, it is invariably the breadth of an organization that is discussed, which makes sense as any customer-centric positioning must be embraced company-wide for it to be successful. Every part of an organization, from IT to sales to customer service and marketing needs to be customer-centric. And what customer-centric means exactly needs to be agreed upon internally so everyone has a common understanding of a shared vision. What does customer-centricity mean to your particular business and industry? How will you define its pillars and goals?
“My definition of customer-centricity is considering the customer at the center of everything a business does,” said Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO of Experience Investigators. “This may seem obvious, but most businesses are product-centric and/or brand-centric. Putting the customer at the center of decisions means understanding their needs, desires, expectations, and disappointments. To do this successfully, however, the organization needs to define what success looks like for both the customer and the organization.”
Surprisingly, making the customer-centric shift is rarely discussed in regard to internal marketing. I believe this is because in most companies marketing is assumed to be on the forefront of technology and agile processes, so the rest of a company is looking to them as the vanguard of emerging business philosophy. But the reality is marketers, just like the rest of the company, are mired in their own set of traditional processes and cultural limitations that must be addressed so marketing can be freed up to act as that guiding light.
Top Challenges Marketers Face Going Customer-Centric
What challenges do marketers face when going customer-centric? Just like other groups, marketers face similar challenges, with culture and leadership being front of the pack for what is holding marketing teams back from being truly data-drive and customer-centric.
Related Article: 6 Traits of Customer-Centric Pros
Changing Their Culture
Going customer-centric requires the right mix of technology, advanced skills, and agile processes. In short, it requires a company to undergo a digital transformation to position the organization to leverage modern tools to react to a modern digital customer in real-time. A company’s culture must be aligned with their customer’s needs in a customer-centric organization. The reality of the situation is that a company’s perception of where it is at in terms of being customer-centric versus where their customers say that are at is a huge gap.
According to a report from Capgemini, 75% of businesses believe they are customer-centric, while only 30% of consumers agree with that statement. That is a significant difference in perception, and is fundamental to the problem. Corporations are fundamentally product- or business-centric, while they need to be customer-centric, but think they are more focused on the customer than they really are.
The inability to shift a company’s culture resides in one place. An organizations senior management team. Or to be even more clear, whichever key members of the senior leadership team that is responsible for setting overall corporate direction, namely the CEO. CMO, and CIO. These three need to be aligned and in lockstep on commitment to a customer-centric culture.
Changing a company’s culture will be primarily on the CEO, but the CIO is a crucial component here as well. Changing IT from a project-based philosophy to an outcome-based philosophy will require the CIO to shift the type of employees he hires to ones that are more capable of turning their perspective to the customer’s needs, not the internal clients.
But the unfortunately reality here for marketers is that it may very well be the CMO that needs to be convinced to make the actual changes in process and goals to move customer-centric. It’s typically assumed the CMO will be on the cutting edge of customer-centric activities, but the reality is many CMOs, just like their C-suite counterparts, are shouldering years of traditional marketing strategy tactics that simply do not align to agile, customer-centric marketing activities.
It is many marketing departments continued commitment to traditional push marketing campaigns that is hindering them from developing pull marketing in which customers get value from their mutually-beneficial relationship.
Related Article: 3 Ways to Center Your Business Around Customer Experience
Commitment to Traditional Marketing Campaigns
Traditional push marketing campaigns, the type employed by most marketing departments as their primary form of marketing strategy and execution, is the primary impendence for marketing departments to make the transition to customer-centric, data-driven programs.
Traditional models of marketing and customer acquisition rely on a top-down model. Traditional campaign-driven marketing does not care about the customer. They are solely focused on the company and what product it wants to push to consumers to buy. This product-centric focus isn’t working anymore in a modern world where consumers are now digital-first and are in control of the interactions they have with a brand. Today’s customers want to know information from other customers and associate’s way before any product-centric messaging pushed at them from a company.
“If you don’t understand the decisions, actions and sentiments of the customer you can’t effectively engage them,” explained Crispin Beale, a board director and fellow for The Market Research Society and senior strategic advisor for mTab. “And if you can’t effectively engage them then you certainly can’t motivate them to connect with your brand. This is the foundation of customer experience which breeds loyalty, affinity and evangelism. This is exponentially more critical with the COVID environment we’re in as brands are looking to rebound with their customers.”
Customer-centric companies place the customer at the center of all their strategies. They find out the needs and challenges or their customers and then build a solution to based on that data. Customer-centric companies will define the whole customer journey and focus on delivering a great customer experience across all touchpoints., They will try and build loyalty and improve retention, not just push sales messaging.
Customer-centric companies can focus on maximizing customer lifetime value (LTV), are more sustainable than traditional marketing, and leverage customer insights to improve the performance of both static and always-on marketing programs.
Being customer-centric for marketers means offering an engaging, valuable and consistent customer experience across all physical and digital channels. The customer must be put first, even before the ego of the CMO and CEO, and the hang-ups of more traditional marcomm professionals.
Marketers must walk the walk, using data-driven insights to drive their decisions making all the way to the top, and ensuring all members of a marketing team are committed to using data to drive all levels of decision making. The evolution beyond traditional push marketing campaigns must be promoted from the top, and the culture of the marketing team must reflect a customer-centric positioning, one that is based on insights from the customer to drive all decision making.
The words “I think” or “I feel” a customer thinks this or feels that should be eliminated from the lexicon of your marketing team.