Ask just about any business leader if their company wants to have more happy customers and they will answer with an enthusiastic “yes.” Many companies say they create happy customers by adopting a customer-centric approach. This means prioritizing business decisions based on customer wants and needs, versus making product-centric or sales-centric decisions.
Companies like Amazon and Google have become synonymous with customer-centricity. Both companies are experts in building products that make people’s lives easier in new and innovative ways because they weave customer feedback into their decision-making process. It’s no surprise that both of these companies have two brands in the top 10 of Morning Consult’s Most Loved Brands list.
Each of us has been--and will continue to be--a customer. We all know what it’s like to feel loyalty, satisfaction, and even the elusive “delight” in our interactions with companies. Whether it’s being able to skip the line at Starbucks by using their app to buy a Frappuccino or changing your Zoom background to suit your mood, knowing that a company thought about improving your day feels good and keeps you coming back for more.
So if every single person who works at every single company has extensive experience with being a customer, it should be easy for companies to nail customer-centricity, right? If only it was so simple!
It would be so easy to keep customers at the center of your business if only they would keep still! But the peril and the opportunity of customer-centricity is that they just don’t. People are always changing, and never faster than now. There are expected changes, like a student who matures into a member of the workforce. Then there are the many unanticipated changes in outlook and circumstances from events on both the individual and macro scale.
Put simply: just when you think you know your customer, they change!
It’s not enough for a would-be customer-centric company to know that customers are always changing. They must adopt workflows and build products that are flexible enough to change along with those customers.
The development process that leads companies to put out innovative, helpful, and just plain thoughtful products isn’t an easy one. Customer-centricity is easier said than done. It requires companies to get to know their customers, not just once but repeatedly, maintain a pulse on their preferences as they continuously shift.
Let’s take a look at some of the forces of change and how companies are responding to them.
2020 is the year in which the pace of change went into warp speed. “Disruption” went from business buzzword to daily personal reality after many countries issued stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seemingly overnight, people had to find new ways to carry out the simplest daily routines and businesses had to reimagine how they deliver goods and services.
In the retail industry, keeping both customers and employees safe became the top consideration. New safety processes and enhanced store cleaning procedures are now commonplace. But many retailers go beyond hygiene and are using technology to provide new safe, flexible ways to connect with their customers. In April, mere weeks after the first stay-at-home orders were issued, Lowe’s helped its employees keep stores safe with a new app to keep track of store capacity and social distancing. At Sam’s Club, new app features make it easier for customers to shop safely. Those features were built, tested, and deployed rapidly because the company had built customer-centricity into its processes.
One of the changes that an increasing number of companies must contend with is the need to sell directly to their customers. Going “direct to consumer” can mean different things depending on the industry, but doing it for the first time tends to be a big shock. Distribution channels have changed and whether a company sells razor blades or health insurance, they have to contend with new ways to sell and deliver that product or solution.
Consumer goods ranging from groceries to underwear are now sold via subscription services.In the very recent past, meal kits may have seemed like a luxury or even a novelty, but in the era of COVID-19, meal kit provider HelloFresh has revised its growth projections up three times. CPG companies that aren’t keeping a pulse on their customers--and their potential new customers--are losing ground.
In the healthcare world, the direct to consumer shift has been accelerated by the pandemic in similar ways. Both healthcare providers and patients require ways to increase safety by reducing in-person contact. As a result, the demand for virtual care has skyrocketed, moving from a solution embraced by early adopters to a widely-accepted way to receive care. However, putting plans for virtual care into effect has come with significant challenges.
That’s because the challenge of going direct to consumers is exponentially more difficult for healthcare companies because there are regulatory barriers to understanding their customers. Let’s say a product team at a healthcare provider is tasked with coming up with a program to implement virtual care visits. A product manager within this company can’t simply request a list of people with certain conditions so she can ask them about what they want from a telehealth service. Insurance companies are entrusted with this personal health information (PHI) and must keep it highly confidential. However, there are ways for companies to connect with consumers in ways that are fast and don’t compromise confidentiality. For example, health insurance provider Aetna used Feedback Loop’s agile research platform to build customer-centricity into its innovation process.
Quick! Name a brand that you think people love. Chances are your answer looks very different depending on whether you are a Millennial, Gen X’er, or Baby Boomer. MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Study reveals many of these differences. While it’s not a surprise that Amazon rates highly across generations, that’s where the similarity stops. Media and entertainment brands dominate the top 10 for Millennials and Gen Z’ers, retail and technology come to the forefront for Gen X, and CPG brands capture brand loyalty for Baby Boomers.
What this translates to in the larger business world is the fact that people from different generations behave and think differently because of the way they grew up and what is most important to them in their current stage of life. As these cohorts age, we can expect them to change their focus and their feelings. As Gen Z enters the workforce, there’s likely to be an entirely new set of technology brands that they’ll love. Your company may be one of them.
It’s not impossible to be customer-centric, but it does require a new mindset and toolset, including getting frequent consumer feedback through agile research. Customer-centricity starts at the individual level, with a willingness to listen to what people are saying. That is a change that every professional can embrace. Start your journey towards customer-centricity by listening and learning. You may be surprised by where it takes you.