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Customer centricity is at the core of today's successful business and is closely connected to the experience customers have across all channels, in all interactions and throughout all buying phases. But how does it work and why does it demand for a change in attitude and culture?
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Customer centricity describes the alignment of communication, processes, technology, applications, products and services of a company to the needs and wishes of customers. A customer-centric company doesn't just ask what a new project might do for profit, productivity, and overall goals; it also asks what advantage it brings to the customers.
With customer-centricity, you don't have to go on the hunt
In a lot of marketing and sales speak, we unfortunately often use wording that implies that we have to catch the customer in some way. This is not really customer-centricity but rather highly company-centric because when you catch leads, target in on customers, or hunt for opportunities, you speak as a company whose goal it is to catch as many customers as possible as if you were on a fishing trip.
You work hard to convince customers that they can trust you but at the same time, you use wording that implies that you don't see them as equals but as prey.
Customer-centric wording, processes, and strategies try to identify and define the goals of your customers and make them your own. By doing that, you are able to create products and services as well as marketing, sales, and service journeys that actually meet your customers on their level and provide them with value. With this approach, you don't have to lure in leads or catch customers - they will gladly approach to foster a relationship that's a win-win for both parties because no one ends up on the dinner table.
Often, there is a distinction between the company-centric (inside-out) and customer-centric (outside-in) view.
The traditional inside-out-view bases every decision on your company's perspective. This means that all the skills and the information necessary for success are within your company (mainly: your employees and your business intelligence). All systems, processes and products are aligned to the inside-out-approach. The company comes first.
Outside-in puts the focus on the customers and prioritizes their well-being. This means, that all processes, strategies and systems have to be aligned to the satisfaction of the customers. Companies with outside-in-views measure their success by understanding and taking into account customers' needs and also shaping the strategy accordingly (what is best for the customers?).
The company-centric view does not need to die out to make place for the customer-centric view because it still has its merit (especially when it comes to the well-being of employees and the stability of the company). But most companies need to shift from their purely company-centric inside-out view to shape their strategy from the outside-in and therefore cater to their customers instead of forcing their company view on the market.
You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.
Steve Jobs, Apple
Due to the globalization, the competition in almost any field has grown since not only local businesses are capable of solving problems and enabling customers anymore. With worldwide shipping and global market places (e.g., Amazon, eBay and Alibaba) as well as online platforms for cloud-based services and information, customers have more choices than ever.
Due to the digitalization, even smaller and new enterprises are able to be visible and offer their services outside of their local environments. This gives more businesses new possibilities to reach customers. New contenders can compete with smart marketing and without big budgets. Start-ups can disrupt entire industries and markets with lean business models. Plus, all these new businesses also create a lot more "noise" which makes it harder to stand out.
In the age of information, customers are nearly independent from businesses to research products and services and make a purchasing decision. Additionally, the old-fashioned one-sided communication (business to customer) has turned upside down. Nowadays, customers don't just receive information, they can share their own experiences on social media and create a highly visible discourse with you, other customers (and the competition).
Gartner has developed a customer centricity pyramid that shows what customers expect from companies (source: Gartner via Businesswire). The pyramid is customer-centric itself in that it phrases each level from the point of view of the customer.
Develop the right processes and system connections to have a full 360° view on your customers. A centralized data management can enable your customer-facing employees to provide the relevant information swiftly and proactively.
Fast response times as well as quick problem solution are some of the most important qualities to keep and delight customers. An issue that gets resolved in a short time can even leave a better impression on the customer as if it never existed in the first place since it shows how much you care and how capable you are to fix problems.
Personalized support means to understand not only general issues but the specific customer situation and how to resolve it by listening and acting accordingly. A pleasant experience almost always is based on personalization and empathy.
Proactive support and service are a way of helping customers before they even notice an issue. Many CRM platforms can offer this with the help of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning. For example, providing easy information on the maintenance of products, or reminding customers of annual payment processes and how to deal with them easily can prevent an actual "issue" and show that you know what your customers need even before they do.
The goal for any company - no matter which service or product it offers - should always be to make the life of the customer a bit better. It sounds easy but it can be quite challenging to identify what makes a product or service valuable to the customer. But this knowledge can help marketing, sales, service and many other business units to shape everything around this value and therefore create customer-centric experiences.
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If a company wants to focus on its customers, it must pay particular attention to their experiences. Customer centricity and customer experience (CX) are closely linked. You can only design positive experiences - on all channels, across all business units and customer phases - if you develop them from the customer's point of view.
For example, a restaurant for families will only be truly successful if it is also designed with families in mind (is there enough space for strollers and playing children, does the menu fit for different age groups, are there changing tables, are the chairs comfortable, etc.).
When talking about customer experiences and customer centricity, it is important to differentiate them from usability because these terms tend to get mixed up. Even though both usability and user experience (UX) are closely tied together, they both mean different things.
Usability describes how easy it is to use a product or system. This includes, for example, how easy it is to learn how to use an application, how intuitive a website menu is, how informative self-service information is or how easy it is to find a specific page or function online.
Conversely, poor usability means that the product or system is difficult to understand, difficult to learn and difficult to use.
Usability is part of product design. This includes not only the pure functionality and application, but also the look. A confusing website or too many flashy elements that make it difficult to see what to do next, are just as much a part of usability as the complexity of a payment process during check-out.
Eslam Tawakol defines good design as something that "bridges the gap between business goals and user needs." (Source: "Good Design vs. Bad Design: Examples from Everyday Experiences")
The user experience, meanwhile, describes the experience, but also the impression that a user has of a product or service. The user experience includes many subjective, emotional components, such as the expectation of an experience, whether it is met, the emotions the user feels and what the lasting impression of an experience is.
While usability also plays a role in user experience, it is not enough to design successful experiences. For example, a process can have perfect usability but still not provide a positive experience. If I use a vending machine and it works, I am satisfied but not necessarily delighted, because it "just" did what I expected, nothing more, nothing less. But if I use a vending machine and it actually wishes me a good day or offers something unexpected (in a good way), my user experience is much more positive and I will remember it much longer.
The biggest difference between usability and user experience therefore lies in the goal. Usability is about making something easy to use. User Experience, meanwhile, aims to ensure that the application is a positive experience for the user, providing added value and a positive emotional journey. This is why things like the persona, the journey mapping and overall customer-centricity are important when it comes to the user or customer experience.
It is not just the process; it's how the process makes you feel.
According to a study by Pointillist, "High Performers" of CX do certain things that other companies are not yet doing properly:
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Customer Journey Management (CJM) describes the processes, technology and culture shift involved to turn an "inside-out" company into an "outside-in" company. The experiences of customers can be seen as journeys which don't just end with the purchase but go beyond via after sales, loyalty programs, and other interactions. The goal of customer journey management is to connect every single customer interaction to create a cohesive journey that fits your brand and leaves a positive impression on the customer.
Today, we often talk about "Customer Experience Management" which can be differentiated from CJM but is often used synonymously. However, it generally means to look at all processes, communication, applications, etc. from the point of view of the customer and see how they experience their "journeys". How can the journeys be optimized? Are they delightful and easy or are they complex and frustrating?
As such, it is important to make sure that:
All of this doesn't mean that nothing is company-centric anymore. In fact, intuitive, easy process automation to alleviate the workload of employees and increase productivity as well as smart data that helps gain better insights are crucial to support employees to fulfill their goals. A happy employee will always deliver better service than an unhappy one. The customer-centric view therefore does not negate the needs of your employees or company. Quite to the contrary, it sets up your company in a way that all your needs a met to better fulfill your customers' needs.
To see your processes, communication and channels through the eyes of the customers, we recommend the Customer Journey Mapping method.
The method usually takes place as a workshop with an interdisciplinary team of people that have customer contact and/or design customer-related processes and products. All participants pick examples of typical customer experiences (registration for a customer account, returning a product, looking for a specific information) and then visualize them on a whiteboard divided into:
Customer View: Channels, actions, intentions, pain points, goals
Company View: Responsibilities, buying phases, processes, technologies, information, next steps, goals
This is furthermore helped if the group goes through these processes in real-time as the customer to see how it actually feels. It is surprising, how often people who actively worked on these processes have not yet experienced them from the user-perspective themselves.
By taking the customer view, it's easier to see where certain communication or processes might not properly fit the customer behavior and need to be adjusted (e.g., unclear information, a gap between channels, a difficult process, etc.).
When talking about customer journey, mapping and communication, the use of personas can help to zero in on the right messages, channels, and media to engage with your customers.
Personas are fictitious profiles which are based on your real customers. Almost every company and organization has more than one persona (but they rarely have more than five or six). Personas - opposed to target groups - are not defined by demographic features or even behavior - but rather by their motivation and pain points:
Personas are also often defined in interdisciplinary workshops because even though they are often used in marketing, it is the colleagues from sales, service, and other customer-facing teams that can give proper input on how customers react, what they require and what might even drive them to switch a company.
Additionally, actual surveys and 1:1 interviews can help to sharpen the persona with real-life quotes from actual customers.
Personas have a myriad of uses. Mainly, they help develop communication material across all channels and business units. This includes not just marketing material but also sales approaches, transactional emails, service communication, as well as every little communication that happens when a customer engages with a company. This can be a specific app, a customer platform, even the product label. Personas are great ways to give your employees a sense of "who" they are talking to, even if they don't have regular customer contacts.
We talked a lot about the many things you can do to create better customer experiences by getting to know your customers. At the core of all these actions and methods, there is a data management that enables you to get a better picture.
Data management is one of the most complex issues when it comes to the digital transformation in general, so it's no surprise that it also plays a big part in the design and development of great customer experiences. First of all, your systems, channels, and apps need to be connected, so you can create a central data management system and gain full transparency overall customer data.
This often requires a proper data evaluation, structuring and sometimes even change of systems to pull off.
However, once this is achieved, it's much easier to connect processes and retrieve data across business units for more insights. Additionally, the use of artificial intelligence can create next best options, identify the best opportunities and even segment the right customer groups for campaigns.
Our DIGITALL experts support you with the evaluation, structuring and smart use of your data for more business intelligence.
A project as big as customer-centricity needs the right KPI and measuring tools as well as processes to test and optimize. In the digital age, there is not one solution that can stand the test of time forever and this is a good thing. Instead of working endlessly on a perfect solution, the modern approach is to go out with a good solution and slowly test and optimize it, tweak a headline here, change the color and position of a button here based on how your customers use your channels, interact with your messages, and experience their journeys. Your solutions therefore grow with your customers.
To achieve this, you need to set up the right reports and KPI for your specific business units and decision makers. A CRM or marketing automation tool can deliver numbers regularly and even in real-time so you can act swiftly.
Make sure that the reports fit the receiver. A decision maker doesn't need every single detail of every single engagement but might find more use in overall conversions and engagement rates, whereas your marketing team can gain insights from a detailed report of every single channel.
When testing, make sure to be restrained: a good test changes single things on a page or in an email to gain qualified insights into which version performs better. Rather take your time and test properly instead of impatiently changing too much and end up not knowing what variable has caused the results.
Last but not least: trust your employees. The change from company-centric to customer-centric has also put a change into many corporate cultures. Management knows a lot but not everything and there is a lot to be gained if you listen and trust in your specialized employees that act as customer support, social media managers, field reps, and more. They have their eyes on current market trends, customer behavior and your processes and can therefore provide a unique and necessary view that - combined - creates the whole picture needed to drive your company's success.
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Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.
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