This article was written by Jeremy Sack.
Most organizations know that being customer centric is important to their ongoing success, and they take steps they genuinely believe will help them become more customer centric. Why, then, are customer experiences so consistently average, or just plain bad? And why are customer relationships so stagnant, if not weak?
It’s because — despite their best intentions — organizations fail to properly embed the human that is the customer into their strategies and capabilities. Many brands make the mistake of defining customers by little more than basic demographics and behaviors and are thus never truly customer centric in the first place.
If your organization is struggling to deliver high-fidelity experiences that lead to enduring, mutually valuable customer relationships, here are 4 actions you should take now.
1. Turn customer insights from a “service” into a strategic capability
All too often, an organization’s insight function exists as a service to the business instead of as a capability to drive customer centricity. This service is disconnected from the organization’s broader experience apparatus, and the insights team is built or conditioned to be reactive and risk averse, focused on running projects and collecting data for someone else to use — or not. This is a common approach, but it won’t help you become truly customer centric.
To turn customer insights into a strategic capability requires, above all else, an elevated remit. Customer insights must systematically inject the customer into the decision and experience systems of the organization through technology, process, or both. Experiences are improved for the customer because they are continuously shaped by the customer. We also recommend a specific set of changes to the insight team’s KPIs, composition, interaction model within the organization, and suite of tools.
2. Beat your competition in the science of customer centricity
In the pursuit of customer centricity and differentiated experiences, many organizations discuss designing experiences that are emotional, but few organizations, in our experience, have an actionable, science-based model for how emotion works in a customer context. If you want to truly differentiate yourself, lip service isn’t enough: you need to establish and rely on science-based models that balance long-term connection with immediacy of interaction.
Organizations often have a limited outlook when discussing emotions. Many brands certainly aim to design “emotional experiences,” yet they have no model to guide them and are unsure how specific emotions might impact a customer’s memory and behavior — and also the brand relationship. In the absence of a cohesive model for emotions, organizations consistently pursue experiences that are vaguely positive. It’s not surprising, then, that experiences are rarely emotional, except when they are bad.
We recommend science-based models for emotions that are relevant to your category and business and that will help build mutually valuable experiences and relationships.
3. Create a transformational view of the customer
Increasingly, organizations are pursuing a unified view of the customer with the goal of enabling direct relationships, greater personalization, and more impactful marketing and connected experiences. But a “unified view” is not the same as a “transformational view” — at Material we advocate for the latter.
A unified view — which typically focuses on connecting historically disparate data sets within an organization at an individual level — is a great start. These data sets tend to be behavioral, and, once established, greatly improve the ability and success of individual interactions with customers to drive transactions. However, what if you also want to build those high-fidelity, enduring, mutually valuable relationships?
Truly customer-centric organizations go the extra mile. They make their data deeper, more layered, and, ultimately, transformational. We believe it’s paramount that brands understand the concept of identity. All of us have different identities, which depend on contexts such as family, career, friendships, and hobbies, and that lead different values to be salient. If you understand your customer’s multiple identities and their relevant contexts, and embed this in your customer data, then you’ll understand how they are likely to think, feel, and behave in a particular moment. That moment becomes an opportunity to deepen your connection and mutual value to the customer over time.
4. Hold yourself accountable — really
Many businesses are so eager to be customer centric that they experience confirmation bias, believing they’ve truly put the customer front and center without implementing the kind of checks and balances required to validate those assumptions. If you don’t have one already, it’s essential to establish a tracking program that quantitatively measures whether you’re meeting customer needs and are, in fact, building high-fidelity relationships. We also suggest an ongoing qualitative system, so that leaders and their teams never forget how actual customers look and sound. Customers are, of course, real people.
As you’re thinking about how to become more customer centric, keep the tips we discussed in mind:
- Remember to make customer insights into a strategic capability that systematically injects the customer into your decision and experience systems.
- Beat your competition in the science of customer centricity. Establish actionable, science-based models to drive key differentiators, such as emotions experienced.
- Remind yourself that a unified view of the customer is not your end goal. Dig deep into the concept of multiple identities and values to build the type of long-term connection you want.
Remember that you’re not only trying to encourage people to buy something tomorrow but are aiming to provide mutual value and cultivate lifetime relationships in the process. If you hold yourself accountable and avoid the trap of confirmation bias, you’ll be among the few companies who go beyond transactional interactions to achieve the gold standard of customer centricity and experience.