Customer-centricity is intuitive. So it must be easy. Not so fast — it is a myth that customer-centricity is innate or intuitive. While it does make sense that customers are the reason for a company’s existence, this is not the way that business is traditionally conducted. Few companies:
- truly understand their customers’ current desires.
- know what specifically a customer must do to buy its products.
- understand how they should evaluate progress toward customer-centricity, especially when it comes to managing employees.
There are surely employees who have the skills and knowledge to let customers drive growth, which is the essence of customer-centricity. Being customer-centric is about choosing a customer-centric strategy to grow — and managing the company accordingly, which is anything but easy or intuitive.
Let us consider “customer-centricity” itself. What does it mean to be customer-centric or customer-focused? The term or label a company chooses is not important. There are two important factors in leading a company that is customer-centric.
- First, it is important that a company makes choices that allow it to grow. In the case of customer-centricity, this means choices that let the customer, and their desires, be the catalyst of that company’s actions.
- Second, it is important that the company rewards and values employees who work well with customers, so that the customers have positive experiences, will stay with the company, and recommend it to others.
Another benefit is that other employees will have examples of what is expected of them. Customer-centricity requires hard choices about staffing, about objectives, and about processes, which must all align to support the strategy. This is what it means to be customer-centric, so how does a company get there?
There is a five-step process involved in getting to customer-centricity.
- Choose customer-centricity as the growth strategy. This presumes that the leadership of the company has gone through some company-accepted process to choose this growth strategy.
- Communicate customer-centricity to all employees. Make sure that customer-centricity is supported by all priority initiatives. Feedback on your communications is critical to understanding that they were appropriately executed and heard — that employees are clear on what to do to support the strategy. If not, employees will not be effective as they will not know what behavior is expected of them. Also, alignment should be enterprise-wide. If not, the leadership team needs to somehow address this.
- Make sure the strategy includes all areas of the business, especially Human Resources (HR), who represent the employee base, or culture of the company. Employees are a critical piece of a customer-centric strategy. The HR plan will likely include both new and existing employees. Company executives can best manage their areas if they know that only employees who meet the criteria are hired and that existing employees are appropriately made capable of delivering the strategy. The HR plan will also likely include a way to fill knowledge or skill gaps for existing employees.
- Manage the business to deliver the strategy, which involves all areas of the business and implies that leadership has chosen an appropriate metric to gauge progress.
- Survey employees and customers to assess current expectations for the company and its products. Make sure the company is at least meeting expectations. If not, company leadership should make adjustments. If so, company leadership will enjoy the growth of the company and results of their efforts.
Only once a customer-centric culture is established, should companies talk to customers to understand what expectations they currently have for the company and its products. By establishing the culture first, company leaders have reassurance that all customer contacts will be handled in an educated, appropriate manner that supports the strategy. This is an important step — if a company seeks feedback from customers before this is done, a lack of customer-centric processes may exacerbate the problem. This is the best way to line up the company’s interactions with customers, to make sure they fit the strategy. It’s not really easy to be customer-centric, but it is worth it.