Let’s begin with a scenario — how much time do you spend focusing on your internal core operation rather than truly identifying market or customer needs and determining how your organization can best serve those needs? I’ve worked at many organizations that lock themselves up in internal “brainstorming” meetings to talk about what they think their customers need, versus actually researching / talking to customers about their needs. At a time when 9 out of 10 CEO’s say they are focused on strengthening their customer-centric programs, this approach isn’t going to cut it.
What Today’s Customers Want
Today, buyers are behind the driving wheel. They are more empowered than ever due to continuous advancements in technology and rapid proliferation of the ‘always-connected’ mindset. In this customer’s era, businesses need to align their objectives with what their customers value the most and put efforts towards achieving nothing less than stellar customer experience — a factor that can potentially make or a break a company’s success. How do they do that? Research shows B2B customers’ expectations from businesses involve:
- Seamless experience across all touch points and all channels, be it digital or traditional, or both
- Honest and open dialogue
- Unique brand message and storytelling
Rethinking your business structure and objectives by putting customers first is a big step towards embracing customer-centricity. Understanding what your customers expect from you is a positive step in that direction.
Is Your Organization Keeping Up?
Customer-centric organizations are 60% more profitable compared to those that aren’t. And you may have seen that Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella announced late last year that the company is putting “Customer love” as the primary indicator of success (behind revenue and profit). This is a positive sign because instilling this mindset throughout the organization generally needs to start from the top.
But the question is, how well is your company keeping up with these changes in the business landscape? If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. According to some not-too-old statistics, 45 percent of B2B marketers believe they have good-to-excellent levels of customer centricity, yet only 12 percent said that their functional teams were strongly aligned around a holistic customer experience strategy. A classic case of perception gap when businesses aren’t really what they think they are.
Stop Focusing Internally
As I mentioned, prioritizing internal core operations over market or customer needs has obvious disadvantages. But it’s not just about missing the big picture. Another major problem that arises from constantly looking inward is formation of silos within the organization. When knowledge and expertise are trapped within organizational silos, the company will face issues harnessing their resources across their internal boundaries in a way that customers actually value and are willing to pay for.
Plus, today, more than ever, businesses have at their disposal multiple channels and technologies to interact directly with customers, to capture information about them, and use data insights to tailor their offerings accordingly. Even consumers are more open to interacting with brands, and their loyalties are increasingly influenced by how brands engage with them. This is why focusing solely on your internal operations isn’t going to work anymore. In fact, losing sight of the evolving market could well be a recipe for failure.
Ranjay Gulati, professor at the Harvard Business School discussed in his book, Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, why customer-centric firms are those that are most stable during turbulent markets. He revealed how a number of businesses, such as Best Buy and Cisco, transformed themselves from internally-focused organizations into customer-focused ones and became more successful while doing so.
The first step toward becoming market- or customer-focused is bringing strategic and tactical changes within your organization. Asking yourself and your employees the following questions is a good place to start.
- Do we know our customers, their behaviors, preferences, buying patterns, etc.?
- Why do our customers do business with us?
- What are the immediate needs of our customers? Are we meeting them?
- What do our customers want or expect from us?
- What are our competitors doing (and we aren’t) to win customers?
- How do we gain market leadership that our competitors might find hard to match?
Once you’ve gathered the answers, hold a strategic planning session to discuss the findings and implement the changes one step at a time. Of course, bringing this type of organizational transformation isn’t an overnight job and will inevitably be a daunting exercise, to begin with. But the efforts you’ll have to put in to better understand your customers will ensure that your organization will survive well into the future.