May 18, 2015
If every business talks about being customer-centric, why do so many fail? The reality might be more complex than most companies are willing to admit. The definition of customer-centricity itself is actually quite simple: orienting the operating model around the customer to deliver what they want, in the way they want it, and when they want it.
But when customer-centricity initiatives fall short, fingers often point at the usual suspects: marketing, sales, and customer service are common culprits. That’s a mistake, because the real barriers to customer-centricity are systemic and will be found both inside and outside your company, not with any single group.
If you truly want to build a customer-centric organization, kicking off a customer-centricity campaign is the last thing you should do. First, take time to identify and break down barriers standing in your way. Doing so will build a strong foundation on which to create an effective enterprise-wide effort.
Identifying Customers in a Changing World
Fundamental changes in the definition of “customer” can significantly increase confusion about just who the customer is today.
New decision makers and influencers add a different dynamic to the classic customer profile. In most cases, new players cause significant increases in the sheer number of solution requirements, as well as segments you need to investigate, profile, and monitor.
In an increasingly networked economy, companies often need to rethink partners and competitors as customers. Concepts like co-opetition and complementors come into play here, as companies often go to market as part of a consortium of suppliers. The needs and capabilities of network partners need to be understood as deeply as those of the ultimate buyer.
Finally, companies entering new markets, either because they’ve identified opportunity in an adjacent or new industry, or they’ve been disrupted out of an earlier one, can struggle to translate value from one type of customer to the next.
Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?
Most companies have run customer-centricity campaigns in the past, and those gone bad come with a lot of baggage. Customer information collected in organizational pockets that isn’t shared. Different departments working on uncoordinated efforts. Misaligned metrics. With the best of intentions, individual functions and divisions may have taken on the challenge to be more customer-centric while neglecting to manage the effort throughout the entire organization.
When organizational priorities aren’t clear, employees will define success for themselves in the simplest of terms; they will look to what is rewarded. More often than not, without a coordinated approach, this reward system will be overwhelmingly internal; process efficiency, product cost performance, and call center efficiencies are examples.
Breaking Down the Barriers
To break down the real barriers to customer-centricity, companies need to work on all fronts.
Start with those you know
Appreciating your existing customers can give a good feel for their environment. Identify or hypothesize where they are interacting with others within their own organization to shed light on new influencers or members of the network. It could start as easily as asking who makes decisions and who influences them to confirm or adjust your hypotheses.
Expand your customer view
Broaden your exploration to include those new customers, decision makers, and networks. Find out not only what their objectives are and how they go about achieving them, but also look for deeper insights about the expectations of everyone involved.
Put on your customers’ shoes
Understand what they are trying to accomplish, their associated emotions, and what triggers their decisions – and not just why they buy. This should include everything that led up to the first time they decided they needed a solution you provide to understanding what influences them to be repeat customers or partners to why they’d recommend your company to others or involve you in joint sales efforts. It should also include how they view themselves as successful professionals; tap into their deeper desires, not just their transactional traits.
Take a holistic view internally
Once the true customer, or set of customers, is clear, internal barriers are more easily seen and addressed. Reorienting to a customer focus requires careful examination about supporting infrastructure. For example, responsibility for the customer’s experience does not lie with just one or two organizations, as experience is shaped by the actions of the entire organization – from sales to product management, manufacturing, finance, IT, and everything in between.
Share customer information
Unearth and share information so that everyone has a common customer view. Find out why it hasn’t been previously or what barriers stood in the way of sharing it effectively and widely across the company. Once you clarify that it is no longer the responsibility of marketing alone, for example, to understand the customers’ needs, things start to change. Sharing will help everyone understand customer expectations and what they need to do to deliver the expected end-to-end experience.
Know what you’re measuring
It can be an eye-opening exercise, as a prelude to initiating a customer-centricity initiative, to assess the metrics and incentives currently in place. Simply comparing the number that support customer-centricity with those focused on internal process outcomes will shed light on what’s still in the dark.
Align customer supporting goals
Begin with the end in mind. Goals are the organization’s desired result, so when addressing barriers to customer-centricity, look at each functional area’s strategic imperatives to understand goals that support the customer. For those that do, check that they are aligned to encourage collaboration and prevent working at cross purposes. For those that don’t, decide if they should.
Investing in identifying, understanding, and eliminating barriers to customer-centricity should be a prerequisite to launching a new customer-centricity effort. Unfortunately, too many dive straight into the initiative, generating even more confusion than already exists. The smarter move is addressing external and internal barriers first in order to put into place the right indicators to measure progress and set the foundation for change on which the organization needs to execute effectively. Without these steps, finger-pointing will be the least of your worries.