In a world of globalization, digitization and fierce competition, customer centricity is the buzzword in many organizations, and a hot topic of discussion amongst top executives. Just about all companies want to make the shift to a more customercentric approach as a means of differentiation, to drive sales, build customer loyalty, make clients happier and secure bigger profit margins.
Yet, how many times have we left meetings with potential suppliers who consider themselves to be highly customer-centric, feeling that they are more concerned about “selling their company,” rather than trying to understand yours, and showing very little signs of actually relating to your specific business needs? Many of these firms are still stuck in a version of the value chain that was defined in the late 1900s, where companies created a product or service with the customer being very much at the end of that process. The focus was to achieve product and service excellence by gauging customer feedback through customer insight surveys, CS departments and performance scores. But is this the definition of customer centricity? And how do you go about creating a truly customer-centric business?
The first step is to start with the customer, not products. You focus on what those customers want to achieve in their businesses and you evolve your organization around their needs, making it your mission to help them reach their business goals. It requires a complete change in mindset away from operational to placing the customer at the center of the process and developing outwards from there. Customer-centric organizations understand that in order for them to be successful, their customers need to succeed first, and that their value to the customer is to do everything possible to ensure that happens.
In our industry we know this all too well. Logistics is a very competitive business; you are only as good as your last delivery. This is the nature of our business and we get thousands of opportunities on a daily basis to succeed or fail. With this in mind, DHL made a conscious effort many years ago to place customers at the forefront of our value system, steering the company to becoming the most customercentric logistics provider in the world. A critical part of DHL’s Express division is ICCC or “Insanely Customer Centric Culture”; it lies at the core of our training and communication efforts for all 100,000+ DHL Express employees across all corners of the globe. The main purpose of ICCC is to create an environment where all employees, whether customer-facing or not, understand that meeting and exceeding customer expectations is their top priority, every day. We also set off to tap into the hearts and souls of our most vital assets, our people, motivating and engaging with each and every one of our staff through our Certified International Specialist program. We made sure to reach out to our staff the same way we reach out to our customers– the aim was to get them to back our vision, and drive it forward by inspiring them, by enhancing their sense of pride and belonging to the company and by ensuring they understood how they contribute to the network and to the success of the business.
Are we there yet? Maybe not entirely, but we are on the right path and have made significant progress in this regard. At the end of the day, establishing a customercentric culture is an ever evolving journey and not an end destination. Through our own experience however, we have identified several key factors that are essential to achieve customer centricity.
First off, customer centricity starts with people– we must move away from working and thinking in solo, around products and processes. Rather, we must drive our teams to have their customers’ success as their ultimate goal. Commitment from the top is also a must and goes beyond simply discussing customer matters in the boardroom. Senior management have to be equally involved in driving customer success as each frontline employee. Our DHL top executives undergo specialist training on customer-centric behavior just like every other employee. They are engaged, attend business reviews, and act whenever there is need for involvement. More often than not, companies put their focus on balance sheets and profit margins. But to be truly customer-centric you have to put the focus on the success of your customers. This means thinking less about how much you are selling and more on how a product or service helps customers thrive in their businesses. At DHL, we live and breathe our customers– we have specialist teams who are tasked with becoming experts in specific industries, be it construction, automotive or retail. They follow the trends and stay up to date, and they know as much about the market as our customers themselves. This enables them to be proactive in advising customers and offering tailored solutions to drive their business success.
The concept of “one size fits all” is old and dusted. Today, customers demand tailored solutions. This is not an easy task and requires constant listening, adapting, and innovation. Innovation is key to progress: a truly customer- centric organization knows this, but it doesn’t innovate alone– it co-innovates with its customers. We have set up specialized Innovation Centers where our customers visit us with very specific needs and we have joint workshops and develop innovations together.
Lastly, capturing customer feedback and converting this into tangible improvements is paramount. Customer surveys are very common across businesses; we use them too. But while they are valuable tools, they also represent a very impersonal way of capturing feedback via a static questionnaire. Customer-centric companies go one step further: they engage in frequent direct dialogue, facilitating the exchange of ideas and views rather than one-sided listening. When we share insight and knowledge, we naturally improve. At DHL, we engage in face-to-face dialogue with our clients on a global and region-wide level through conferences, workshops and meetings. The outcome is translated into tangible deliverables centered on the feedback gained from this interaction with customers.
To sum up: customer centricity requires a fundamental shift in the way a company thinks and operates but the rewards are plenty. It marks the difference between being a trusted advisor instead of a transactional supplier. And who does not want a trusted advisor by their side.