The notion of being customer-centric is not new. Since the emergence of modern business enterprises, there have been many examples of companies that have put customers at the center of their strategy. What has changed is the market and technology environment in which companies have to pursue the goal of being customer-centric. Customers are better informed of options than ever before. They can easily and quickly search out competing solutions, and demand more as a result. They form opinions of products and brands through multiple touchpoints. And today’s omnichannel, international world makes it more complex and difficult to manage the end-to-end experience consistently.
The need for customer-centricity is more relevant today than ever, and also more difficult to achieve. It has become the new (old) battle, with a dramatically different battleground. Notwithstanding this, a recent white paper published by Phase 5 and TMG, The State of Customer Experience in Canada, shows that Canadian companies are only “somewhat aligned on the importance of CX focus”. While these results apply to one market, our experience with clients throughout North America tells us that it is a broader front. And, for companies that have adopted the mantra of customer-centricity, the market environment makes it a constant challenge to manage.
Let me just say that no company is perfect. We’ve all encountered bad products or experiences with companies that are otherwise really great. Notwithstanding the occasional flop by these good companies, the one thing that comes across in dealing with them is the consistency of the experience at every stage, whether it is in the products that they come out with, the interactions that you have with their digital channels, or the dealings through other channels. Their products seem to solve problems that needed to be solved. Their design is seamless and fits their brand. The in-person experience is what you would expect of them (which means their people feel it and live it). Overall, they seem to anticipate what you need and want at the right time and the right place. This concept seems simple enough, but in today’s world, it has become increasingly difficult to get it right.
At the heart of this overall experience is a commitment to put customers at the center of decisions, and to do so in a coordinated and consistent manner across the product, user and relationship lifecycle. This requires:
- Ensuring strategic alignment. It is important to understand your organization’s motivations for becoming customer-centric and to ensure alignment with corporate and brand strategies.
- Defining and prioritizing customer segments. There needs to be a clear strategy for defining and prioritizing audiences who will be the center of your attention (because they are aligned with corporate priorities).
- A 360 view of the customer experience. You need to understand customer behavior and to have a complete view of their experience across stages, channels, products and business units they might engage with. This requires a full understanding of the customer journey, as well as the points of friction along the way.
- A vision of the ideal experience. Based on the understanding of customer needs and pain points, as well as strategic and brand priorities, there needs to be a vision for the ideal experience.
- Internal alignment. Your people and processes need to be aligned to deliver the ideal customer experience. It also requires management approaches that leverage customer insights and decision tools (e.g. personas, journey maps, customer feedback) in developing solutions, and designing interactions.
- Customer experience strategies to achieve the vision. Strategies need to be developed to address gaps relative to the vision, which can implicate channel, employee, product and brand management.
- Managing towards the vision. Ultimately, you need to ensure that what you are doing is helping you progress along the path to customer-centricity. This requires developing and managing measures that indicate the degree to which you are achieving customer-centricity as a business and how effective your strategies are in supporting this goal.
We recommend starting with an assessment of and guidance on these important elements to help companies achieve their ultimate goal of customer-centricity. Although projects can be siloed, customer views of companies are not necessarily shaped by a single experience, so it is critical to have an integrated view and leverage customer insights to drive decisions.
Whether you are developing products, designing the user experience for digital channels or shaping how you engage with customers across channels, having a vision and strategy for the overall experience they’ll have with your products and company provides an important framework for your efforts.
Beyond developing this overall framework, there are specific approaches and techniques to bring customers into the decision-making process across the innovation, user and customer experience design lifecycle that we’ll be discussing in subsequent blog posts.
Developing the framework and plan is just a starting point. To be truly customer-centric, companies need to ensure that their management approaches and processes put customers at the center of decisions and bring them to the table as important stakeholders.
Doug Church, MBA, is a co-founder of Phase 5 and co-lead of the Innovation practice. He has more than 25 years of experience conducting innovation, product, and go-to-market research. He brings extensive methodological expertise and strategic insight to clients. A member of ESOMAR, Doug has served on the boards of several organizations and spoken on numerous occasions at marketing research and industry events.