What does it mean to be “Customer Centric” and why is it important?
By Chris Valentine
‘Customer centricity’ - the act of taking a more customer-focused approach to business - is a term which has gained popularity in recent years.
Many companies have made a conscious effort to understand the voice of the customer on a deeper level. Many more want to shift towards using this as a key decision driver inside the business. This intent is undoubtedly positive in theory, but how does your company become truly “customer centric” in practice?
What does it mean to be customer centric?
First, it’s worth understanding what we mean by a customer centric approach and why it’s more important now than ever before. Customer centricity is defined as having the end-user as the focus for every business decision. It transcends across the entire customer journey, starting with customer acquisition through to transaction and aftercare. Every part of the business empathises with the customer and focuses on giving the best possible experience for them.
While it’s always been essential to satisfy the customer with your product/service, being customer centric presents a dynamic shift. It transforms the goal of solely focusing on delivering a great product to enriching the customer experience in every possible interaction.
One underlying factor which has led to the rise in customer centricity is technology. Technological advancements have opened the door to obtaining unprecedented levels of insight helping underst the customer in greater detail than previously thought possible. Traditionally the only two-way interaction between a company and the consumer was at the point of sale and/or aftercare (which is often minimal and informal).
New advancements in tech now mean that users have a direct voice to companies 24/7, and consequently, their expectations and demands have risen. Coupled with this is the rise of data collection tools which allow companies to harvest valuable customer feedback. It is now far easier to listen to and understand your customer feedback than ever before.
The rise of social media now means that every single interaction has the potential to be amplified to tens of thousands of people in a matter of hours. Spreading rapidly to reach global media outlets and major social media channels.
In 2014, when a disgruntled passenger wrote a tongue in cheek letter of complaint letter of complaint to Ryanair and was shared over 65,000 times. The message was picked up by the press, leading to it being seen by millions causing immeasurable damage to reputation and revenue.
On the flipside, customer centric companies can take a potentially damaging story and turn it into successful PR. When a Sainsbury’s customer used a pun to highlight a lack of barcode with his cod, they were all too happy to get in on the fish puns. Interactions like this are difficult to attribute to direct revenue, but they show a human element to the company which organically boosts positive PR sentiment in numerous places.
Customer experience levels the playing field
Technology has also levelled the playing field for companies by destroying barriers to entry. By adopting a customer centric approach, small companies can now rapidly scale, grow and compete with much larger organisations in the same space. They are using their smaller size and agility to pivot business plans to suit their customers rapidly.
Previously the idea of a small business taking on established banks seemed near impossible, yet since launching in 2015 Monzo now has over 2 million users and is widely regarded as the bank of the future. Similarly, the UK energy market seemed impenetrable, but in 2018 alone, relative newcomers Bulb and Octopus Energy took 1.2million customers away from the big 6 stranglehold.
One thing these companies all have (as well as great Tech) is an extremely customer-focused approach. Browse their websites, and it won’t take long to see them proudly referencing their NPS or Trustpilot scores. They want you to know that they come first and that their feedback is what builds the product journey.
These examples show that being customer centric is not done because it’s a nice thing to do (though it certainly is) but because it makes great business sense. A customer-first approach allows the battle for customer loyalty to be fought on more than one front.
If having the lowest price is the only unique selling point of a company then as soon as competitors undercut this, then there’s no reason for a customer to be loyal. If a customer feels aligned to the company values, has experienced great support and has strong affinity with your brand, then they’ll be far less likely to churn and have long-term loyalty.
So how do you be more customer centric?
So how does your company become more customer centric?
The first step is understanding your customer touchpoints. A touchpoint is any direct or indirect interaction your business has with customers or potential customers.
The most apparent touchpoints are direct interactions:
- A customer at the point of sale
- Communication with a member of staff
- Browsing the company website
However, it's easy to overlook just how many touchpoints a company has with the customer the but the average company has over 20 customer touchpoints. We won't exhaust with a full list but some notable ones include:
- Marketing and PR campaigns
- Social media presence
- Post-sales activity such as loyalty programmes and aftercare
- Corporate social responsibility.
Recently, social media users have been shaming companies for their litter and use of plastic which has in turn been picked up by the national press. Press coverage damages sentiment and the customer's perception of those brands. A stakeholder doesn't need to have ever had direct contact with a brand to have formed a strong opinion and affect the opinion of others.
This is why customer centricity improves the customer's perception of your brand by bringing to attention both direct and indirect touchpoints.
Only once your company understands its customer touchpoints can you then aim to improve them. Improving these over time requires a reliable and independent way of measuring the performance of these areas. Quality measurement provides validation of decisions and guidance over what should be prioritised to have the most impact.
Standard customer experience metrics such as NPS give a great view of the company performance, and metrics such as CSAT work well for customer service. But to truly understand your touchpoints and how your customers think and feel about your business, meaning we have to dig even deeper into our customer data.
Measuring Customer Centricity
Topic detection and sentiment analysis allow you to highlight and view performance across all areas of the customer journey. It can help you identify topics that matter to your customers and bring to the attention insights that would have remained out of sight to you and your team.
Using topic detection and sentiment analysis, you can learn a lot about multiple areas of your business from just one single comment. For example, the comment below scored 10/10 on NPS, but if we analyse and break it down, we can find two positive and two negative points. Providing extra insight behind an NPS score.
This method can also help in spotting the crucial but hard-to-detect customer pain points. Internal product/service bias can interfere with the discovery of game changing insights which are affecting the customer’s experience. Examining raw verbatim data in high volumes gives the customer a blank canvas to let their feedback be known to you.
Once these measuring tools are in place you can adopt a customer centric approach whereby the customer’s perception of all your touchpoints can be analysed. Enabling you to make customer centric decisions based on customer feedback to give the best possible customer experience.
Even departments which don’t traditionally take ownership for customer experience metrics can build their all-important understanding of the customer. The accounting department for example, which is historically a back-of-house function, could make changes to make customer interactions easier and smoother. An accountant team could even attribute negative sentiment of topics related customer support and product/service to an increase in the number of costly delivery returns.
Becoming more customer centric can bring its own challenges too
In order to be most effective, it requires full company buy-ins, which in turn requires both practical and cultural changes across the board. Secondly, showing the immediate value can be tough; is hiring a 24 hour social media team or providing free refreshments for in store customers going to bring in direct revenue? We can’t say for sure. However, it is going to grow the overall feelings towards your company leading to more brand loyalty and an increased lifetime value? Almost certainly, yes.
This leap to showing how non-revenue related decisions can lead to more revenue is why the tools for measuring and quantifying changes become particularly vital. If we look at some of the most successful or rapidly growing companies of the past ten years (think Amazon, Monzo, Netflix) they all have a razor like focus on customer experience, a validation that customer centricity breeds success.
Customer centricity (when done right), will lead to higher customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to increased business performance. The increase occurs through a reduction in gross churn, improved lifetime value of a customer and a higher likelihood of referrals. As a customer’s experience improves the likelihood of them leaving for competitors decreases.
The companies that become most effective at this can look at a metric such as NPS and know how much each point up/down will cost or earn them in a monetary value. This then takes the importance of customer centricity, from something which may help the business, to a fortified measurable revenue influencer, understood throughout the company and driving your company to greater success.