Giving customers EXACTLY what they ask for can be counterproductive at times- businesses need to understand their customers in order to know what drives them and how to cater to their needs. Richard Whale, Head of Marketing at Experian Marketing Services UK identifies the four attributes of a customer centric business and also dives into further details and top tips about how organisations can create a customer centric culture in the right way.
That the customer should be put first is one of the core foundations of good marketing. Customer experience is the key battleground for marketers and is often where successful brands make a name for themselves. However, in my opinion it’s also about aligning your brand values and delivering them consistently to customers – which does not necessarily mean giving your customers EXACTLY what they ask for.
In a sense, the old truism that “the customer is always right” does not ring entirely true in a marketing context. It would be at this point in an article about customer centricity that the author would wheel out that old quote from Henry Ford about faster horses, but I feel it’s been done to death (and it turns out he may not have even said it).
The fact that the customer is not always right should not mean that brands target customers with things that they don’t want. Instead that they shouldn’t restrict themselves depending on what the customer is asking for, or dilute their messaging to provide something that is contrary to the core brand message.
Confused? Here’s a fairly light-hearted example of what I mean: A popular and successful greasy spoon café that provides cheap, quick and ‘hearty’ grub is considering changing a few things. The manager wants to offer something a little more refined and healthy. She also wants to upgrade the décor to smarten it up a bit by buying new chairs, putting in some plasma screens and giving the toilets a refurb. While the plan isn’t to make it fine dining these are changes that will cost money and could affect prices. If the manager were to ask her customers if they wanted smarter seats, a wider range of food and brand new toilets they would probably say yes. However, would they be happy with her increasing the prices? Probably not considering one of the main USPs in the first place is that the food is cheap.
Being customer-centric means focusing on what your customers’ value most and why they are your customers to start with. All business decisions should be made with the impact on the customer in mind.
Who are your customers?
In order to be customer centric you need to have a full picture of who your customers are so that you can start building your business around them. You need to know why each individual chooses to purchase from you and what it is they value about your company. It is this information that drives your business strategy and brand promise.
What makes a customer-centric businesses?
There are four core elements to customer centricity:
• Know your customers – understand their lifestyle, values, and needs and listen to them
• Customer-centric business strategy – the business should be built around a deep understanding of your customers
• Culture – employees live and breathe customer centricity
• Customer metrics – make sure your KPIs take into account customer interactions – you don’t want to be prioritising chasing numbers at the risk of not servicing your customers as well as you could be
Key factors in the construction of a customer centric business:
Be accessible – make it easy for customers to connect by ensuring websites are mobile and search optimised. Make it obvious how customers can get in touch – use a range of options and let them choose which they prefer. Keep language straightforward, friendly and jargon free – remember, customers are individuals.
Be responsive – customers expect a quick response. Perhaps it’s the influence of social media and live chat but today a certain standard of reply is required. Brands should be responding to every query, regardless of channel, so don’t offer a channel if you don’t have the resources to monitor it.
Respond quickly to every single query (especially if it’s in a public environment) and do what you can to reach out to check queries have been satisfactorily answered.
Be empathetic – Empathy isn’t about fixing a problem or providing an answer. It’s about understanding why that problem is annoying and sympathising. This comes out in language and tone. Remember, it’s not just fixing something. It’s appreciating how annoying it was in the first place. It may be worth providing some form of gift or voucher to say sorry.
Be a team – companies that work in silos find it difficult to work cohesively to respond to customers. Product enquiries may go to a separate area of the business from research queries and unless you have a good internal communication structure these answers won’t be easily accessible. Try some form of internal communication platform and get employees to positively engage with it.
Another tip is to sit teams together. When trying to run a cross-channel approach, it’s crucial that the different teams and channels are working cohesively and sometimes this can be solved by simply having them physically sit closer to each other.
True cross-channel communication is only possible with a Single Customer View of customers. When you understand the different touchpoints with each customer it’s far easier to talk to that person across channels and act as a team rather than individual silos.
People build a culture
As is often the case the most important factor within business is people. Your people and your customers. A successful customer-centric organisation consists of people up and down the company being positively engaged with the culture of customer-centricity. Whether this is through education, incentives or continual encouragement is up to you (and probably depends on your industry) but passionate employees at every level of the business is a must for any company wishing to be truly customer centric.
A major part of this is using the same customer segment types in all communications across the business, not just marketing. This way you are treating customers with the same level of understanding, and if you have a consistent tone the brand experience is going to be that much more coordinated.
Likewise, customer-centricity has to stem from the customer. What you know about them, what they want and what they tell you. For this you need to have a good understanding of your audience.
By Richard Whale
Head of Marketing
Experian Marketing Services UK