If I had a fiver for each recent comment or blog I'd read on the subject of customer-centricity, I'd be heading off to the Caribbean on a very nice holiday. I think all this attention betrays a collective anxiety as we know that organisations are still struggling with the customer-centric agenda. Only a small minority of businesses are already accomplished omnichannel players - most are struggling to join up properly in front of the customer. The Customer Contact Association's (CCA) 2013 and 2014 Members' survey confirmed that roughly 75% of respondents 'still operate a siloed approach' to their customer interactions.
This is a sobering finding. Many industry experts believe that achieving a single customer view approach, through being a brilliant omnichannel player, is now a pre-requisite just to stay in the game. Achieving durable competitive advantage and differentiation requires much more.
If omnichannel is becoming a table stakes play, what comes next? In a recent research project supported by Kcom and CCA I identified that the next big shift required within the next five years is the movement from a 'single view' to a 'shared customer view' - which will become the new industry standard for quality customer service. This is not just about providing a joined up service offer, but about starting to open up a shared value agenda in which customers start to buy-in and more directly co-produce value and service.
Successful business will not try to 'control' customer behaviour and move them to the lowest cost transaction point. They will intuitively understand where customers want to go and offer relevant pro-active responses. This is about getting processes and customer journeys right, allowing high value interactions (either online, on call or face-to-face).
Indeed the broader shift to social media and omnichannel delivery are natural accelerators of the shared customer view, encouraging the rise of what one expert called 'intuitive, anticipatory customer care' in which customers will genuinely be able to say 'I'm glad you contacted me about that'.
So, the first challenge is omnichannel (or 'single view'), and if you're not there, you need to be, and really fast because a shared customer view is what's next - and this implies some deeper shifts.
Well it depends on your starting point. As part of a Change Associates research project on this topic, I spoke last week at an event on this topic for senior leaders from HR, IT, Marketing and Corporate Communications to brainstorm challenges and come up with ways of thinking about what agendas need focus and connection.
Many of those who came represented established businesses for whom customer-centricity is still a struggle - and it became clear that they are experiencing blockers and enablers to becoming more customer-centric that are distinctive from the issues facing smaller or start-up organisations.
Start-ups have a bunch of advantages - no legacy IT, no legacy real estate, no staff who joined one business and are now being asked to work in one that looks quite different.
Instead they build their business models around what they know the customer already wants. And this new entrant mindset means they can give an omnichannel experience from the get go, ensuring the customer experience and customer journey are hard-wired into the business model, the hiring plan, and the metrics the that drive their business.
In all sectors, the biggest threats come from these new entrants, operating without legacy, deftly making new offers to pick off market segments and customers. Rob Fraser, ex-CIO of Sainsbury's powerfully explained the impossibility for many large business of uninventing legacy and what he called 25-year business cases. He described that the long-term business planning of the big four supermarkets - premised on buying more and more space - brought high returns - but now leaves them on the back foot as consumer preferences have rapidly changed - 'if those business plans had run over a five year time horizon we wouldn't have built some of that retail estate.'
The challenge for established organisations is to be radical with their business models, and customer service ambitions, or someone else will be. Leapfrogging legacy, from IT systems to organisational design, is a prerequisite for sustained success. You need to bring the customer-centric mindset of a start-up into your C-suite, and change the conversation both inside your business, and with your customers.
If you'd be interested in taking part in Change Associates' research on customer-centricity please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated: 2 May 2017