Think You’re Customer-Centric? Think Again

Jessica DeVlieger is senior vice president at Communispace.

Most businesses claiming to be customer-centric aren’t being totally honest—not with you, not with me, not with customers, not even with themselves.

This isn’t a new revelation. Back in 2005, Bain & Company released research about the “delivery gap,” finding that 80% of companies think they provide a superior customer experience, but only eight percent of customers actually think so. And, nearly a decade later, the gap still hasn’t closed. This year, the CMO Council and SAP found that 73% of senior marketing executives of major corporations say customer centricity is critical to the success of the business and to their own roles. Still, only 14% say that customer centricity is a hallmark of their company, and even fewer (11%) believe their customers would agree that characterization.

Consumers’ relationships with and expectations of companies and the products they buy are ever-changing as a result of the confluence of technology, social media, and the democratization of business. However, for the most part, the relationships companies have with consumers haven’t changed much at all (and, in some cases, these relationships have even weakened).

So, why the customer-centricity gap?

1. There is information overload.

Companies collect vast amounts of data on their customers daily as the primary (sometimes only) source of consumer understanding. Make no mistake, the collection and analysis of data can yield some powerful insights. However, the black-and-white, easy-to-make-a-decision nature of data enables companies to collect, slice and dice it at their discretion. Too often, data is collected, analyzed, and used only to serve the company’s interest and not necessarily the potentially more important, more influential customer’s interest, which falls well outside the narrow, pre-defined data collection lens.

As a result, companies are drifting farther and farther away from customers as real people…as human beings with complex emotions, joys, frustrations, unmet needs and challenges that can’t always be quantified and categorized by pie charts and bar graphs.

2. There is tension within the business.

As in that which often exists between insights teams and the business line. (The Boston Consulting Group has a study on this.) As the primary data collectors and consumer “experts,” there’s constant demand on insights to “have impact,” “make the learning actionable,” and “be the headlights of the organization.” But insights professionals are being pushed to answer more near-term, tactical questions in shorter and shorter timelines. And while it’s easy to simply say “the insights team needs to be more effective” or “the business needs to be a better partner” the reality is that until we collectively address the root cause of this tension, the challenges faced by insights and business professionals will only get worse.

3. There is not enough emphasis on relationships. 

So often we see that while consumer insights professionals have some access to the real customer, typically the broader organization’s only experience with the customer is through sanitized reports or the occasional focus group.  Most business leaders have no relationships with their customers. This is a missed opportunity because exposure to customer’s authentic voices can move organizations to action and create fertile ground for change. Building customer intuition can help cut down on the number of short-term, tactical questions that insights departments are being asked to address at an increasingly frenetic pace.

The good news is that closing the relationship gap is possible. Embracing ongoing brand-consumer relationships actually represents greater business opportunities than collecting self-serving data…or lingering in a constant state of tension as a result of the pressure to make actionable business decisions based on it alone.

Take, for example, EE, the UK’s leading mobile network provider. As part of the EE brand launch, we held a series of collaborative immersion events. Consumers shared with EE employees stories of those sinking “oh no!” moments when they drop their mobile phone in the toilet or leave it behind in a cab. The key revelation: consumers didn’t care so much about the physical phone, it was the precious data and memories inside it that mattered. From these insights – which data would never have revealed – the Clone Phone was born, a premium service that gave people the peace of mind they needed in case they lost or damaged their phone. And it was a huge success. Within the first six months of launch, and more than 250,000 new Clone Phone contracts were signed at an average additional value to the business of £10 per customer.

As consumers – and the environment in which companies are operating today – are changing faster than ever, the companies that win won’t be the ones that collect the most data or ask the most questions. Winners will be the companies that figure out how to complement their data with relationships, and whose employees – including business and insights leaders – immerse themselves in the voices, lives, realities, and inspirations of the people they serve.

This article was originally published in Chief Marketer

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