What About The Customer?

This guest blog was written by Jason Noble, a UK-based expert in Customer Success. Jason is also a co-host of, “The Jasons Take On…” a monthly webinar and podcast program covering a wide range of customer success topics.

Being Customer-Centric

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to being (more) customer-centric is defining what we mean by that – and it can and does mean different things to different organizations. The reason being customer-centric is important is not only the obvious – that your customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and the product and sales are delivering on our promises, but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalize that and support those customers.

A great way to think about customer-centricity that really resonates with me is – “A business is customer-centric when it delivers on-going growing value to and for their customers.” If you are customer-centric, it means you are observing that evolution that’s happening to your customer base, and you’re able to be very agile and nimble in responding to that as a business. I really like this way of thinking as it’s not just for the short term and the now; it’s about the what (the value) and the who (it allows for customers to include customers as we know them, our employees and team members and our shareholders and investors).

It’s not easy

Being customer-centric is easy to say but hard to do. It doesn’t come organically, and I’ve never seen an organization say they’re not customer-centric or that they don’t want to be even more so. It, of course, needs organization-wide buy-in and sponsorship, from sales, to finance, to operations, to support, to customer success, to delivery – it’s not one function’s or one team’s (or even one person’s) responsibility; it’s everyone’s.

Why now?

To quote Dan Steinman from Gainsight – “We are now in the age of the customer” – and we’ve gone through the transition from technology to mobile to social and now to the customer. We’re moving more and more to being outcome-driven and not just product and technology-driven, and we’re shifting from the idea of ownership for products and services to usership and subscriptions. We see this more and more in both the business and consumer worlds.

We hear a lot about the idea of stickiness of services and using it as a measure of engagement and customers staying with us longer. I don’t personally like this term as it implies that they have to stay and don’t necessarily want to stay – which is very different. As a physicist at heart, I prefer the idea of an attractive force – like gravity – and our customers wanting to stay with us. I think it’s a far more powerful way of thinking.

We live at a time of unprecedented customer expectations both for business customers and our end consumers, and being customer-centric is critical, but why the recent focus now?

Think about your ultimate consumers – they are you and me, and our expectations have changed. Forrester’s research stated, “This new world requires leaders to think and act differently,” and George Colony, Forrester CEO, predicts that if a company is not customer-centric, they’ll simply be out of business between 5-10 years.

Being customer-centric shouldn’t just be a concept, and we need to approach it as part of our company vision and mission.

There is a gap

We’ve been trying to be more customer-centric for a long, long while, but only 14% of business leaders think they actually are, and only 11% think our customers would say we are. The Harvard Business Review in 2017 stated that “The most common, and perhaps the greatest, barrier to customer-centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. At most companies, the culture remains product-focused or sales-driven, or customer-centricity is considered a priority only for certain functions such as marketing.” This is true in many instances still, but we are now beginning to see a shift and cultures change.

Think about customer outcomes

Understanding your customer and aligning their business interests with a customer-centric, prescriptive approach to realizing value from you is the fastest and most efficient way to growing product adoption. We need to shift our thinking from why we are selling to why our customers are buying from us and what the outcomes are that they are looking for. What do our customers want, and how do they want it? Change your talk track and understand your customers betters.

BA’s strap-line fits very well with this way of thinking – “To fly, to serve.”

Customer leadership

We know the theory, and we know we need to be more customer-centric. The biggest challenge for many organizations is how to do it, at both the strategic organizational level and at the more tactical operational level.

I’ve worked with, and for many organizations going through their own journeys to be more customer-centric, at both large, well-established global organizations and more niche startup organizations and have been privileged to be in positions with them where I’ve been part of those customer-focused changes and have seen some amazing results. One of the more strategic changes that is crucial for success is getting your customer leadership at the right level. It’s great to see more organizations across different industries and sectors investing in Chief Customer Officer or similar exec level roles now, and the number has grown significantly over the last few years (and continues to grow). Having the right leadership gives you the voice of the customer at the leadership table, having someone focused on driving customer growth and value and bringing the customer conversations to the exec and board level.

I really like this concise definition of a Chief Customer Officer: “An executive who provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.”

The customer leadership role “Chief Customer Officer or other “ gives you:

  • Visibility – to understand and see what is happening to your customers
  • Clarity – of what happens when a prospect becomes a customer
  • Balance – the 3rd organizational pillar (with sales and operations)
  • Focus – allowing sales to focus on new business
  • Feedback – into what is happening outside of the business
  • Signaling – the external messaging that we are customer-centric

Practical steps to being more customer-centric

At a more practical level, “things you could do more immediately” here are a number of key ideas to drive customer centricity in your organization:

  1. Create a mission statement that impacts and includes
  2. Be a customer for a day – good old role play (and across all teams)400
  3. Visit your customers ? all execs and, even better, all teams
  4. Create a customer community – customers talking to each other
  5. Create a voice of customer program – and close the feedback loop
  6. Bring your customer feedback into every meeting across the business
  7. Democratize customer insights – make them visible to everyone
  8. Have customer-focused goals and objectives for all teams
  9. Hire for customer orientation and customer empathy

I really, really like Amazon’s mission statement:

Earth’s most customer-centric company

When launched in 1995, it was with the mission “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.” This goal continues today, but Amazon’s customers are worldwide now and have grown to include millions of Consumers, Sellers, Content Creators, and Developers & Enterprises. Each of these groups has different needs, and we always work to meet those needs, innovating new solutions to make things easier, faster, better, and more cost-effective.

Points 6 and 7 above can be very powerful when done well, and I’ve seen the idea of a customer feedback wall used very well and to great effect – where you include and share the very good, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Do these ideas resonate with you? What things have you done in your organizations to drive the journey to be more customer-centric? And what has the impact been on your customers?

“Customer Centricity is a journey and not a destination.”

Jason Noble

Jason is an established leader in Customer Success and SaaS, with over 20 years of global experience working across customer success, service delivery, account management, customer support, and professional services. He has held leadership roles with major global brands (including Sony and Reed Elsevier) and also worked with more niche technology startups and organizations, successfully building and leading global customer success programs and operations. He is a commercial customer success leader working at the Director and board level – to innovate and align technology functions and services – as the voice of the customer at the leadership table.

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