Conversations on the Future of Business: Customer Centricity

Jim Fields

More than ever before, customers now have the power to decide how, when and whether they will Woman Buying Clothesdo business with a particular company. As a result, companies can no longer afford to operate with the “Field of Dreams” business model, essentially clinging to the idea that “if we build it, they will come.”

Because maybe they won’t.

Customers today expect companies to come to them—figuratively and literally—and to provide a pleasant, productive and personalized experience that makes them feel special. Smart companies are responding to these changing customer expectations by putting customers first, engaging them in new ways, and focusing on customer service and satisfaction.

How can companies become more customer-centric?

An organization that is truly customer-centric puts the customer at the center of everything it does, and then leverages new technology and models of engagement to reinvent the customer experience. Businesses now have the ability to predict customer behavior based on their past experiences and purchases, and to use that information to create precision marketing tailored to individual customers.

“Without good data it becomes more difficult to consistently improve the customer experience,” SAP CMO Jonathan Becher writes in a recent blog post. “It’s not enough to have surveys and anecdotal feedback from customers; you must analyze their entire experience over time.”

Analytics can also help companies understand how their customers differ, to ensure each customer gets an experience that he or she will appreciate. Millennials, for example, often approach shopping and business transactions quite differently than many Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers, relying much more on social networks and peer relationships to inform their decisions—and quickly sharing their complaints with the world if they have a bad experience.

What makes customer centricity difficult?

Making a business customer-centric isn’t like flipping a switch. Established processes and attitudes are sometimes barriers to that shift, even if everyone generally agrees on the company’s new direction.

According to Becher, companies often have organizational disconnects that degrade or interfere with the customer experience. “The challenge is that each of these channels, from the in-person experience to the website to the call center to post-sales support, are usually developed and managed independently – and often by different groups within the organization,” he says. “Given the way business units and functional groups are organized and measured inside companies today, most care only about the slice of the experience they’re directly involved with.”

Even small steps can sometimes cause companies to stumble. Mark McDonald, group vice president and head of research at Gartner Executive Programs, points out that many executives want the energy and engagement social media can offer, but they may resist making the final move. If they run a test that fails to show meaningful business results, they may decide that “social media appears to be a distraction drawing people away from meaningful work.”

“How do I know?” McDonald asks. “Because frequently executives ask about the productivity impact of social media and see it as a reason to reinforce control rather than reinvest in collaboration.”

Defining customer centricity

Companies that want to become more customer-centric need to use every tool and strategy at their disposal to improve the customer experience by knowing their customers better and engaging them more fully.

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