Customer-Centricity Is the Key to a Competitive Advantage
If you want your business to stand out, prioritize the consumer experience.
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While it has always been important, customer experience is quickly becoming an essential component to secure a competitive advantage in today's marketplace. In fact, a widely cited study conducted by Walker predicted that the customer experience would overtake both product and price as the key factor in customer decisions by 2020. And you only have to look at any online-review site to know that this prediction is already coming true.
It will be the companies that implement a deliberate strategy to create and manage the customer experience who connect with today's empowered purchasers. Remember that the customer experience is the overall impression of your company, and it's made up of every single interaction they have with your brand, whether you know about it or not. The customer journey includes your website, social media, online reviews (and your replies, or absence thereof), news stories and PR, along with the actual product or service, purchase process, fulfillment, customer support, billing, price and perceived value and any post-purchase touch-points.
If you haven't already, now is the time to master the art of a superior customer experience by committing to customer-centricity as a corporate priority.
Making Customer-Centricity a Corporate Priority
Customer-centricity informs the behavior of the entire organization. In a customer-centric organization, every employee, in every function, always has the following question top of mind: How will the decision I am about to make impact our customers's experience? Rather than focusing on a single transaction, employees who embrace this mindset proactively seek ways to improve the total experience. Ultimately, this leads to happier customers, more referrals, repeat clientele and increased revenues -- all of which are reasons to make customer-centricity a corporate priority.
A Practical Example
While customer service is important, in a customer-centric organization, the rest of the organization recognizes their role and acts on it for the good of the customer. For example, in a chain of shoe stores, you might provide training on customer-service excellence for the in-store staff to help them refine their approach, practice friendly and courteous service, probe for customer needs, assist dissatisfied customers effectively and so on. But there is so much more to the customer experience than that. For example:
- The customer-service manager may work with buyers to set up product-knowledge sessions with vendors so that all staff are able to recommend the right types of shoes for people with bunions or narrow heels or orthotics.
- Inventory management may provide a system to organize stock rooms in individual stores so that products that meet similar needs are stored in ways that make it easy for floor staff to retrieve several options for each customer.
- The digital team at the head office may be trained to check local inventory to answer questions in social media interactions, then contact the store to let them know that a specific customer will be coming and what they are looking for.
- Buyers may work with vendors to establish protocols that will enable store staff to accept returns on defective products, rather than having to direct customers back to the manufacturers for assistance.
While these actions take place off the front line, each one has the potential to benefit the customer's experience for the better and is an example of true customer-centricity.
Taking the First Step
If you are determined to create a customer-centric organization, it can't be done based on what you think your customers might want. You need to know. So, before you kick off a customer-centricity initiative, here are four steps you can take:
- Stay in touch with evolving customer expectations, both within and outside your own industry.
- Track these evolving expectations within your company and determine how your customers rate you against them.
- Communicate clearly to all employees what success looks like in this area and provide ongoing updates on the organization's current status at addressing them.
- Equip employees with the mindset, tools and empowering environment necessary for them to be able to contribute meaningfully as they work to ensure that customer expectations are consistently met.
That fourth step is the true differentiator between a company with a customer-service imperative and a truly customer-centric culture. Each person within an organization can contribute to the customer experience, but the organization must provide an environment that is conducive to that occurring.
If you are committed to making customer-centricity a corporate priority for your organization, the absolute first step is to fully understand the customer's needs and expectations. While much of this happens through your customer-facing employees, they will require the support of the rest of the organization to succeed. As such, everyone -- regardless of department or role -- should actively contribute information, background, tools, resources and training to achieve a unified understanding of the customer. Once this happens, you will be well on your way to becoming customer-centric.