The six essential elements to help drive customer-centricity

Bill McMurray | Managing Director (Asia Pacific & Japan) | Qualtrics

Once upon a time, businesses dictated most of the terms of engagement with custo mers. Today, the customers are in charge.

Thanks to the explosion of open and online engagement channels, companies are now under the watchful eye of the public. This means that every time they interact with an individual, their behaviour can be scrutinised by everyone.

Largely, this trend has been a good thing. Consumers have more power to ensure they are treated fairly by organisations, and companies have enormous opportunities to use public engagement channels not only to connect with individuals, but also to shape how their brand is perceived. However, public opinion can often be an unforgiving taskmaster, and one wrong step can wreak havoc on brand associations among the public.

Many organisations are now clued-in to the power of public perception and the role social media plays in it. Consumers today can often spark company action faster by jumping on the brand’s social media page and making a comment rather than calling the organisation, or visiting in person to make the same comment.

The entire balance of power in the consumer-company relationship has drastically shifted towards the customer. This means competition for every business is at an all-time high and growing by the day. If companies want to keep up in this hyper-competitive environment, they’ll have to create life-long brand loyalty by focusing on the people who purchase their product and service. More than ever, companies must leverage the customer experience to succeed.

Positive customer experience creates higher value customers, more referrals and lower churn. For many, customer experience has been largely overlooked in recent decades, but positive customer experience separates industry leaders from industry failures.

While most companies recognise the importance of keeping customers at the forefront of everything they do, it remains challenging to do this effectively. Not only is it a daunting task on a process level to transform the business so it can put the customer first in everything it does, it is also challenging on a systems and technology level.

Despite the challenges, organisations operating in today’s competitive, digital technology-driven landscape need to start somewhere on the road to customer-centricity, and one of the best ways to begin is to implement a customer experience program. However, when building a customer experience program, too often organisations rush into it without aligning all the necessary factors to move forward with creating a customer-centric organisation. Alignment of the entire organisation, its processes, culture, and technology is an essential key to developing a  successful customer experience program and, ultimately, becoming a customer-centric organisation.

Businesses need to make a concerted, sustained effort to become customer-centric, taking a strategic rather than a merely tactical approach. Businesses must also be ready to take action on customer feedback, as there is absolutely no point in gathering customer feedback unless the organisation is going to do something about it. If the company gets negative customer feedback and they don’t act on it, then they have actually done more damage to the customer relationship, than by not asking for the feedback.

By introducing strategic elements, the organisations that lay out a path to customer-centricity will be better able to cope with changes in the broader business environment.

Introducing a Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC) program is a first step to developing an effective customer experience strategy. VoC programs obtain customers’ feedback about their experiences with and expectations of an organisation’s products or services. Well-conceived and implemented VoC programs can be so effective that they often lead to companies questioning their readiness to shift towards a customer-focused culture. It can be a wake-up call for some companies, but it is also a valuable gift.

Organisations can gauge numerous facets of their customers’ experiences with, and perceptions of, their brand, and take the measures necessary to foster a customer-centric posture without the risk of making too many missteps once their customer experience strategy begins.

The voice of the customer is best heard as an ongoing conversation, so an effective VoC program needs to gather and use information in a timely way that informs improvements over time. Most organisations have multiple touch points within which they engage customers, and these all need to be considered in a VoC program.

Before organisations rush into implementing a customer experience program to get closer to their customers, a customer-centric culture must truly be established in the organisation.

There are six general factors that need to align. Once these are aligned, companies can produce an optimal customer-centric culture.

1 Strong leadership

Establishing a customer-centric culture starts at the very top. Without executive-level buy-in there is a low probability of creating maximum impact for any customer-centric initiative. Organisations also need to garner the support of lower level leaders to truly move the needle on improving the customer experience. Leaders set the tone for their subordinates, so if a leader decides that the customer is important, their direct reports will follow suit.

2 Vision and clarity

The company’s vision for customer experience needs to be specific so that everyone within the organisation can easily understand the common goal. Leaders should start by focusing on the language and messaging to convey the vision. It can be useful to create a clear vision  statement and refer back to it often to keep projects on track.

3 Engagement and collaboration

As employees become more deeply engaged, the resulting cross-functional collaboration and synergy will help create more impactful and successful customer initiatives. Driving engagement depends on understanding the workforce, which can be done through implementing a formal feedback program.

4 Listening and learning

It is critical to get customer feedback as a basis for any changes, as well as to listen to employee feedback regarding how well these changes are working. It is therefore important to implement a systematic method for monitoring and collecting feedback. Because customer feedback can be gathered via multiple channels, it’s important to build any listening program on a robust platform, like Qualtrics, that can pivot with customers as their feedback preferences change.

5 Alignment and action

To achieve success, each action taken within the company must be aligned to the ultimate vision. Before acting, it’s important to analyse the root causes or drivers of things that need to be changed. Then leaders can assign people or teams to take measurable steps to make those changes.

6 Patience and commitment

Building a world-class customer culture is not an overnight exercise; it takes time and cannot be completely outsourced. The most successful customer-centric organisations are built iteratively over a number of years. Businesses need to alter the customer culture, refine collection practices, increase the complexity of analyses, and make action widespread and aspirational. All along this journey, business leaders must demonstrate patience and commitment to the process and vision.

More than ever, companies need to leverage the customer experience to remain relevant and competitive. A companies’ VoC program should be agile and cost effective to be a competitive differentiator and as such, companies must own their program and its results, in order to achieve this differentiator.

Qualtrics provides the balance of full-function capability, with a scalable and easy-to-use VoC platform. This enables an organisation to have a flexible and agile program where the company can start small, implement that, learn and iterate and then grow the program out in terms of capabilities/customer touchpoints and scale. Organisations can then take action and respond to customers in real-time, to make a negative or OK experience, an exceptional experience and ultimately lifelong customers.

Bill McMurray is Managing Director (Asia Pacific & Japan) at Qualtrics, who provide the rapidly growing enterprise customer and employee, insights and engagement technology platform. Bill is an international technology executive with over 30 years of experience in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) industry.

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