by: Alain Thys

I’m on a mission to help marketing catch up with the realities of today, and one of the areas I believe still requires some attention is the way businesses focus on their customers.  Or in modern day jargon, how far they are “customer centric”.  Sure, by now we know that focusing on the customer can help you grow sales, build loyalty and even get customers to recommend you to others.  There are even a growing number of people that deploy the Net Promoter Score or similar metrics as a tool to achieve just that.     

But while these numbers and theories can point you in the right direction, they do not change the way your company operates.  That needs to be done by the people in the business.  And marketers need to make sure they want to play ball too.  They need to make people in the business understand why it’s important to focus on the customer.  They need to be prepared to walk the customer talk.  Truly listen to the customer.  Change their habits and behaviours.  Even re-organise the business if that’s needed.

Management Centre Europe specialises in getting people to develop a customer-centric mindset (disclosure: MCE is a long standing Futurelab customer), and from working with them on a number of customer projects, I’ve learned that this bit of getting people to act is a completely different ball game.  In fact, at MCE they found that only companies that place equal value on the mindset of their people, stand a fighting chance.

But when it comes to the internal – people – aspects of customer-centricity, most marketers are no where to be found (nor – to be fair – are most other departments).  Still, for those who would like to take up the gauntlet of really making something happen in their business, I propose six attention areas which have been proven in other places, and they could work for you.

Attention area 1: Show them the money

No matter which way you look at it, businesses are about money.  Shareholders want returns.  Staff wants to be paid.  So marketers should start every conversation about customer centricity by talking about money, and the measurable profits the business can make by making customers “happy”.  Talking about the bonuses that can be earned by growing customer delight helps too.  After all, only if the leaders of the business and their staff clearly see what’s in it for them and for the company, will they consider changing their behaviour.

Attention area 2: Involve everyone

Customer centricity is not about graphs and PowerPoint presentations.  It is about having your people experience what customers are looking for.  Showing them why customer focus matters.  How their job, no matter how customer-remote, can have an impact.  That is why marketers must involve everyone in the business in the customer research conversations taking place.  And rather than prescribe the right behaviour, encourage them to formulate for themselves what being customer-centric means in their job.  You cannot script human behaviour anyway.

Attention area 3: Adapt the KPI’s

Getting the people in the business to understand the importance of customer centricity and what it means to their job is a start.  But if the KPI’s they face tell a different story, the initial enthusiasm will quickly disappear.  Efficiency measures can eliminate staff time to deal with the customer.  Cost controls can create bad profits.  Project priority sheets can lead people astray.  As a third – crucial - step marketers need to work with other stakeholders to review every KPI of the business.  Does it encourage people to do what is right?  Or does it get in the way?  Is it customer-centric, or is it customer-toxic?  After all, only when every KPI is aligned, will the people be able to put their intentions into practice.

Attention area 4: Back it with leadership support

Once people are willing to do what is right for the customer and have formulated a vision of how this applies to them, they need to be empowered to act.  This is where marketers need to encourage the leadership of the business to come into play.  They need to allocate resources to the right places, encourage the right behaviours and forgive well-intended mistakes.  They need to set the example by actively talking to customers, and doing what is right.  And when processes, habits or politics get in the way, they need to be decisive and clear that the customer centricity drive is not up for debate. 

Attention area 5: Break the silos

But even empowered employees can only achieve so much.  After all, customer feedback typically doesn’t fit the processes and silos of the business.  That is why – even though they should advocate it -  customer centricity should not become the responsibility of the marketing or any other department.  Instead, cross-functional teams should be created and resourced to understand what being customer centric means across departments.  And subsequently align individual parts of the organisation so they "deliver what is right for the customer and for the business."

Attention area 6: Focus on mindset and completion

Any customer feedback system is a rear view mirror for your business.  It can tell you how well the business has done and trigger improvement projects, but it cannot predict the future. Every new situation will be different.  Marketers need to help all employees and subcontractors instinctively select the right actions.  For this they should rely on the customer facts, but above all on a mindset in which they know what matters most, and are free to do this.


So what do you think.  Am I crazy?

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