What Customer-Centric, Customer-Obsessed Companies Must Do

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession. Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession.

Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

Customer Awareness
Customers are known, but in the aggregate. The organization believes it can select its customers and understand their needs. Measurement of performance is rudimentary, if it exists at all; and customer data are siloed. There’s a traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal) with little evidence of teaming.

Customer Sensitivity
Customers are known, but still mostly in the aggregate. Customer service is somewhat more evident (though still viewed as a cost center), with a focus on complaint and problem resolution (but not proactive complaint generation; internal groups tend to point fingers and blame each other for negative customer issues). Measurement is mostly around customer attitudes and functional transactions, i.e. satisfaction, with little awareness of emotional relationship drivers. The organization has a principally traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal), with some evidence of teaming (mostly in areas of complaint resolution).

Customer Focus
Customers are both known and valued, down to the individual level, and they are recognized as having different needs, both functional and emotional. The customer life cycle is front-and-center; and performance measurement is much more about emotion and value drivers than satisfaction. Service and value provision is regarded as an enterprise priority; and customer stabilization and recovery are goals when problems or complaints arise. Communication and collaboration with customers, between employees, and between employees and customers is featured. Management model and style is considerably more horizontal, with greater emphasis on teaming to improve customer value processes.

It’s notable that, at this more evolved and advanced stage of enterprise customer-centricity, complaints are thought of more in terms of a life cycle component, and recovery is more of a strategy than a resolution.

Customer Obsession
Throughout the organization, customer needs and expectations—especially those that are emotional—are well understood, and response is appropriate (and often proactive).

Everyone is involved in providing value to customers—from C-suite to front-line—and everyone understands his/her role. Customer behavior is recognized as essential to enterprise success, and optimal relationships are sought.

Performance measurement is focused, and shared, on what most monetizes customer behavior (loyalty, emotion and communication metrics—such as brand-bonding and advocacy—replace satisfaction and recommendation).

Customer service (along with pipelines and processes) is an enterprise priority, and seen as a vital, and profitable, element of value delivery.

The management model is far more horizontal, replacing traditional hierarchy; and there is an emphasis on teaming and inclusion of customers to create or enhance value.

Companies that are customer-obsessed, and what makes them both unique and successful, have been extensively profiled by consultants and the business press. Often, they go so far as to create emotionally driven, engaged and even branded experiences for their customers, strategically differentiating them from their peers.

In addition, these companies focus on the complete customer life cycle, and much more on retention, loyalty and risk mitigation (and even winback) than acquisition. Support experiences are strategic, nimble and seamless, and often omnichannel. Multiple sources of data are used to develop insights. Recognizing the information needs of their customers, they invest in altruistic content creation (over advertising); and they communicate proactively and in as personalized a manner as possible

Customer obsession, what I refer to as “inside-out” customer-centricity, has been a frequent subject of my blogs and articles: One of Albert Einstein’s iconic quotes reflects the complete dedication of resources and values needed for an organization to optimize its relationships with customers: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.” Mastery requires, as well, a storehouse of experience coming from experimentation; so, just like in the pole vault and high jump, we can expect that the customer-centricity bar will continue to be raised.

A New Year THINKABOUT!

Happy January—the month of all sorts of resolution making! It’s hard to resist the desire to start anew with a clean slate each year. Something in us likes that blank blackboard/screen feel and the  “do-overness” ability that comes with a turn or click of the calendar. But whether or not the act of resolution making resonates with you, I do advocate the practice of taking a pause for a New Year ThinkAbout with your brand leaders to reflect together on two powerful verbs. Ask yourselves these questions:

Happy January—the month of all sorts of resolution making! It’s hard to resist the desire to start anew with a clean slate each year. Something in us likes that blank blackboard/screen feel and the “do-overness” ability that comes with a turn or click of the calendar. But whether or not the act of resolution making resonates with you, I do advocate the practice of taking a pause for a New Year ThinkAbout with your brand leaders to reflect together on two powerful verbs. Ask yourselves these questions:

  1. How well did you WOO and WOW your customers last year?
  2. What are your plans to live out these verbs in a fresh and meaningful way this year?

WOO and WOW: Six letters with all sorts of magnificent brand potential. Short and simple little verbs that can easily get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of omnichannel strategy creation, personnel issues, financial plan execution and competitive activities springing up all around you. But these two verbs should be at the forefront of your best brand thinking. Here’s why:

• Wooing is a full-time, year-round, relationship-building branding activity. When brands forget to woo, that is, continually win over, both potentially new and, of course, existing customers throughout all their touchpoint interactions, these customers can turn elsewhere. When customers feel their business (and time and attention and wallets!) are taken for granted, unappreciated and or even assumed, they can start to slip away. You may or may not even notice at first … it may be subtle: one less purchase from you, one extra month between transactions.

• Wowing is a full-time, year-round, relationship-building branding activity. When brands fail to keep pace with their customers’ needs, when they keep doing more of the same, when they don’t stay a step ahead of their competitors or disrupt their own successes, they stop wowing customers. Customers get bored, fatigued and even worse, distracted by those competitive brands that are indeed wowing.

So, who is your Chief Wooing Officer? Who is your Chief Wowing Officer? What’s their action plan for 2014? Better yet, why not have a thinkabout incorporating wooing and wowing as a full time, company-wide, all-brand ambassadors’ initiative this year?