Customer-centricity at the core of business strategy

Most businesses nowadays are obsessed with customer experience. But it’s that kind of fixation  that will do good eventually. Efforts to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed us into using online services more often, especially during confinement. More than ever, individuals demand first-rate, personalised, digital experiences with user-friendly interfaces that allow quick and efficient exchanges. Although it’s true that having the best supporting technology is important, becoming customer-centric goes beyond digital transformation.

With the customer firmly in the driver’s seat, businesses want to focus on building and nurturing lasting relationships with them, with leads and brand advocates by crafting unique experiences that feel tailored to them.

In this article we discuss why customer-centricity is essential in business and what steps businesses need to take to start their journey to become customer-centric. 

The key drivers of customer-centric transformation 

Customer-centric transformation has been gaining traction over the past few years. This trend has been mainly driven by big tech companies such as Apple and Amazon or streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix, who have successfully built their organisations around customer needs. We can consider these companies to be customer-centric. 

However, customer-centric transformation addresses something a bit different. It refers to a shift from traditional organisational design, focused on functions and departments, to one focused on customer journeys –a holistic representation of customers’ touchpoints with a brand– and key experience moments, also known as make or break moments in customer experience. 

But there’s more to it than that. A key driver of customer-centric transformation is a shift in strategy from competitor-centric to customer-centric. 

This is important because competitor-centric organisations mimic their peers without fully understanding the underlying causes of their failure or success. This strategy might have worked well in the past, but in the digital age, customerswhether they are consumers or B2B businessescrave unique experiences that feel tailor made and evolve with their needs. 

The internet, especially, has made it possible to understand customers better than ever before, allowing organisations to forge meaningful relationships that could be ultimately monetised and difficult to mimic. 

From a strategic point of view, customer experience is like the walls of a fortress. It keeps safe the liaison with customers who may become brand advocates even when things don’t necessarily go right. Think of Apple for instance. The Cupertino-based company isn’t errorless and is far from being perfect but the relationship it has managed to build with a large majority of users is that strong that it holds firm and healthy over time, and it has even elicited a famous quote.

While a business cannot predict unequivocally how clients will adopt their products or services, it can smooth the way based on relationships where the experience with the brand is a strong glue. For that, they need to take a step back, join forces with a team of user experience (UX) experts and focus on starting their customer-centric transformation journey, together.

Crucial steps in the customer-centric transformation journey
  • Setting a winning aspiration 

Any kind of improvement, cumulative or radical, focused or systemic, requires transformation. And any transformation needs to start with business’ leadership, namely, who should start running a materiality analysis to understand and prioritise business objectives.

When bringing UX designers to the executive table, it’s important that they work together to boil down the business purpose to a single, winning declarative sentence. Determining a common objective is a good start because it allows for alignment. 

However, going more in depth in the exercise is even better, especially for the setting of expectations: identifying what winning—or success— actually looks like, both in actions, consequences (positive and negative) and results, and how their impact might affect both the industry and the society.

  • Understanding the client

Once the objective is set, understanding and defining what actions and ideas can get the business closer to what they aspire to achieve comes right after. This is perhaps the moment when a realisation comes to light: customer-centricity isn’t only about the things you do, but equally important, it’s about the things you choose not to do. 

How does a business tackle this step? Well, they should tap into the invaluable power of the best consultants a business can get advice from, the individuals who have direct contact with their products and services! Go straight to the source, reach out to your clients across different segments and industries

The goal isn’t to search for a solution, but rather to look for problems to be solved. It allows the transformation team to gain a deep knowledge of the clients’ needs, wants and pain-points.

  • Transforming client-relations

By establishing a connection with the client and being interested in their needs and pain-points, the business builds or reinforces trust into their relationships. Only then, these relationships can go beyond transactional needs and evolve into partnerships where business and clients mutually support each other to succeed. 

  • Internal shuffle 

What follows is a possible internal reorganisation around customer journeys, rather than around classic functions. 

For example, instead of having a team only producing marketing materials for the entire business, there could be one team per journey, say wealth management. It could consist of many different functions including marketing, so as to deliver one seamless experience to clients in that industry. This team could remain close to the company’s partners through regular interviews and focus groups, to keep improving the customer experience. 

We acknowledge that this model can be a hard pill to swallow as most companies tend to organise internal work in silos. However, to fully embrace the “everything is connected” reality, multidisciplinary and cross-departmental work is a must.

  • A change of perspective

Lastly, the executive committee might have a change of perspective, particularly where they don’t think of products and services anymore, but rather about solutions that address customer needs and pain points.

Three pillars to supporting the customer centricity journey

In nearly countless articles we mention the board’s buy-in as an unavoidable requirement to any transformation exercise regardless of the subject matter. That’s the first pillar we’re listing below.

  • The board’s buy-in. 

Once the winning aspiration is set, it falls into the executive committee’s hands to allocate resources and amplify the message internally to the maximum. If customer-centricity is to become the core of everything the company does, a strong tone at the top has to make that clear from the beginning. 

  • A commonly built value proposition. 

By chipping away everything that doesn’t add value to clients, what remains is a true and more legitimate value proposition, a list of clients’ needs, wants, pain and gain-points. 

The new value proposition allows both the client and the company to be centered on the solutions to the identified problems, rather than the latter focusing on the products to be pushed.

  • People empowerment.

For any transformation process to work, the key vector remains the people (because the robots won’t take over!). The well-known sentence “change is never easy” is overwhelmingly used precisely because it is undeniably true. If teams aren’t ready emotionally, physically and technical to browse the change wave, the project is doomed to fail. 

We have experienced this situation first hand. Some months ago, when working with a large investment company in the American continent, we were faced with the double challenge of working with a different culture and having to do so remotely as the lockdown triggered by the coronavirus crisis struck half-way through the project. 

Nonetheless, we took this opportunity to introduce new digital tools that enabled the company’s employees to truly understand and connect with their customers. 

They created personas—a fictional character representing a group of clients with shared needs and pain-pointswhich helped them to empathise and create solutions in an iterative manner. 

Since teams are self-guided and semi-autonomous, they make decisions based on client feedback and business impact, rather than competitor moves or industry trends. This allowed them to quickly monetise the transformation effort and reinvest for future success. 

A final piece of advice

As British-born American author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek says, “Start with Why”. It might sound simple, but more often than not, organisations haven’t set a winning aspiration or objective, at least not in a way that is clear, or they haven’t diffused it across their teams. 

It’s important to take a moment and reassess objectives and the paths businesses take to achieve them. Sooner or later, they’ll come to an unavoidable conclusion: businesses need to start with the customer, creating and providing products/solutions that are ultimately aligned with their needs and demands.

What we think
Armin Prljaca, Human-Centered Design & Innovation at PwC Luxembourg
Armin Prljaca, Human-Centered Design & Innovation at PwC Luxembourg

A practical tip: instead of patch fixing your Customer Experience and limiting improvements to the worst pain-points, instead try to instil a set of customer-centric capabilities that will drive continuous improvement across the entire customer journey. In the process, let the voice of customer guide your prioritisation efforts, and make sure to involve them regularly in the execution. There is no customer need so small that it can’t be monetised –if you understand it well enough.

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