What’s something few organizations actually are, but many either claim to be or struggle to become? The answer to this riddle—the metaphorical bullseye nearly every company is trying to hit—is customer-centric.
Structuring your strategy around buyers’ needs might seem straightforward, but true customer centricity goes beyond providing great customer service or a sleek user interface. It is an organization-wide effort that touches on your operating model, company culture, brand experience, and everything in between.
Part of the challenge in becoming customer-centric is that people are constantly changing and responding to change, much of which is outside their control. As volatility and general uncertainty continue to color customers’ personal and professional lives, their preferences, too, continue to change more quickly and frequently. From soaring inflation and supply chain disruption to the threat of recession and global instability, the sand never stops shifting beneath customers’ feet, making their needs, buying patterns, and “typical” behaviors that much harder for businesses to anticipate.
The upshot? Adopting a customer-centric approach is well worth the energy and effort: Customer experience (CX) optimization, if executed properly, can increase revenue generation by 10% to 15%, while simultaneously lowering the cost to serve customers by as much as 15% to 20%. One study found organizations that were considered CX leaders experienced a 183% return rate, whereas brands that failed to lead in CX had a cumulative return of only 63%.
At Navigate, we’ve seen the customer-centricity conundrum play out in a number of ways. Regardless of whether an organization feels confident in its approach to CX or recognizes the need for an overhaul, misconceptions about customer centricity prevail. Here are a few of those myths, debunked.
Myth 1: Customer centricity can be accomplished via a transformational initiative, much like any other.
There are plenty of strategic programs and projects that have a distinct beginning, middle, and end; a mission that can be declared accomplished. Customer centricity is not one of them.
When embarking on a CX transformation, it’s important to understand the purpose and nature of the work that lies ahead—because what takes place is a mindset shift, not a one-off exercise. This customer-centric mindset becomes the foundation for driving behavior change within the organization and should be a norm embedded in your company culture. Ultimately, what’s right for customers should be the North Star your teams follow no matter what major event or market shift happens next.
Though customer centricity is a constant iterative endeavor, it’s more important to establish a solid foundation than to get all of the operating model components right from the get-go. Your operating model will never be perfect or “done”—and that’s okay—but don’t let it impede progress on the CX front. When laying the foundation, your first heavy lifts will be aligning leadership behavior and cultural factors (especially those that impact customer-facing employees).
With leaders setting the tone from the top, cultural change at the grassroots level can start to take hold. Inspired by leadership’s commitment to customers, employees will be empowered to reflect this ethos in every customer interaction and decision they make. These customer-facing employees become the ultimate ambassadors for your brand. Once the spark of customer-centricity has caught, you can begin to tackle the crucial and complex work around customer research, data management and analytics, detailed experience design, etc.
These elements should be revisited time and again. For example, you won’t conduct customer research just once, but on a regular basis to ensure you’re capturing customer feedback, trends and behaviors, anticipating their needs, and responding accordingly.
Myth 2: Focusing on the products and services you want to sell—and how to sell them—will improve the customer experience.
Whether you work in life sciences, consumer packaged goods, or higher education, it’s highly likely that you and others in your organization are driven to deliver an exceptional product or service. Being focused on enhancing or perfecting your product or service isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re tending more to the inner workings of your organization than the customer, it can blind you to what they actually care about.
Do customers care about how you structure your internal teams? Almost certainly not. Are they invested in the protocols you adhere to, the backend processes that define your operations, or the way you categorize your products? Negative, no, and nope. Do they want a seamless experience when interacting with your brand? Absolutely.
Organizations should view themselves through the lens of the customer if their product or service seeks to truly serve them. Some customer needs will be expressed directly, while others will require a little unearthing to understand. Tapping into these latent needs becomes easier as you get to know your customer and their preferences better. In some cases, you might have a solution customers don’t even know they need.
Take inspiration from an unlikely source: the microwave. When it was introduced in the late 1940s, despite providing an unprecedented solution to speedy food preparation, consumer suspicion about the technology suppressed microwave sales. However, once customers saw the convenience it brought to their lives, the microwave oven became a household staple. Sometimes, you might have a solution your customers don’t even know they need—but by tapping into their latent or unspoken interests, you can deliver a product or service that solves their problem before they even know they have one—and win big in the marketplace as a result.
Myth 3: You should seek to satisfy all customers all the time.
Your brand cannot be all things to all people. In fact, it can’t be all things to all of your customers, either, because different customer segments will contribute different levels of value to your organization over time. It’s helpful to define customer value upfront so you can customize how you engage with buyers and what level of service to provide.
Top-tier customers who drive the most value—(tip: run the analysis because they may not be who you think they are!)—should expect to receive the white-glove treatment. Expending resources and capital on this segment will produce the biggest return on your investment as they bring the most value over the course of their purchasing lifetime.
That’s not to say other segments of your customer population shouldn’t receive excellent service. But instead of a dedicated account manager, perhaps they receive support through a sophisticated self-service platform. Given that 100% of buyers want self-service options for at least part of the buying process (up 13% from 2021), this is a perfectly viable, customer-centric solution that meets your organization’s needs as well as those of your customers.
In the end, your employees at all levels must train their eyes and ears to focus on customers, and your organization should always be listening, reflecting, fine-tuning, and evolving. Because although customers will continue to change, your focus on their needs shouldn’t.