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7 Reasons Companies Fail to Adopt a Customer First Strategy (And How to Succeed)

By now, every CEO knows that a stronger customer focus is the answer to many of their business challenges. Why therefore do so many companies still struggle to adopt a customer-first strategy and culture?

Read on for my own thoughts and perspectives on what should be a top company objective for proven business success.

1. The CEO has stated it as a company objective but has not detailed what and how the organisation will change

While it is essential that a customer-first strategy has a board-level sponsor, it is important that every employee understands their role in making it happen. It should not be treated as just another project but as a long-term company top 3 objective.

When this happens, every division is obliged to see how they will be impacted and what part they will play in meeting it. This is one area where the CEO can’t set it and forget it. He/she needs to be regularly informed of progress and ask “awkward” questions to ensure that everyone is embracing it. Without company-wide support, it will never succeed.

The CEO needs to ask the awkward questions to ensure everyone is embracing a customer-first strategy Click To Tweet

2. The organisation has not fully embraced the strategy

As mentioned above, everyone has a role to play in satisfying and delighting the customer. It is not the job of marketing, sales or market research alone. It is vital that each employee thinks customer first and ensures that every action and decision they make is customer centric.

One easy way to do this is to ask this question at the end of every meeting: “what would our customers think of the decision we just made?” If there is something they wouldn’t like or you know that you yourself wouldn’t approve of, then it needs to be reconsidered.

What would our customers think of the decision we just made? #CEX #Customer Click To Tweet

3. The project is treated just like any other

As with every well-defined objective, it is important that there is a leader supported by a team, to make progress while also adapting and adjusting as challenges arise in its execution. The same is true for a customer-first strategy.

However, unlike most other projects, this one will not have an end date! It should have a timeline to identify milestones, of course. But as the customer will continue to change, the actions needed will need constant adaptation. I like to say that “customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination.”

Customer-centricity is a journey, not a destination. #CEX #Customer Click To Tweet

4. The initiative does not have a visible leader

The initiative must have an executive sponsor and a passionate and charismatic leader, to excite and drive the whole organisation towards a more customer-centric approach to business.

Once the board has endorsed the initiative, the every-day leadership should be handled by someone who exemplifies customer-centricity and has a passion for customer delight. In the most customer-centric organisations, this person is a Chief Customer Officer who sits on the executive board alongside the CEO, CFO and CMO.

According to this recent article in Forbes, the responsibilities of a CCO are to:

  • 1. Bring The Customer To Life
  • 2. Reach Outside The Organization
  • 3. Involve The Front Lines
  • 4. Embrace The Data

As you can see, these are actions that demand specific capabilities that complement rather than replace those of the heads of sales, marketing and PR. That is why a customer-first strategy needs a separate functional head. Trying to integrate these into the responsibilities of these leaders is unlikely to meet with much success.

 

5. No-one understands how to move the initiative forward.

When you don’t know where you’re going, most people are afraid to take the first step. But that’s the only one you need to know. It’s easier to course-correct when you are moving than when you’re standing still. As already mentioned, customer centricity is a journey, not a destination.

That’s why many organisations now work with a business catalyst to help them take those all important first few steps. Once the project is up and running, occasional sessions are then sufficient to keep the internal excitement for the customer growing.

Successful businesses work with a business catalyst to help them take the important first few steps of a customer-first strategy Click To Tweet

6. Everyone in the organisation is not clear about their role in satisfying and delighting the customer.

It is well-known that companies such as Amazon and Zappos have new employees enjoy direct contact with the customer from their very first days working in the company. However, this is something that should be encouraged on an ongoing basis as well.

Ideally, every employee should get the chance to watch, listen and interact with customers regularly. The best organisations have such connections on every employee’s annual objectives, specifying such exchanges on a monthly basis as a minimum.

7. They think it costs too much

While this may be the perception, in reality, it costs a lot more NOT to adopt a customer-first strategy. It makes both business sense AND customer sense.

There has been so much research done on the impact of a customer- first strategy that there is no doubt that it provides a positive ROI (return on investment):

  • Walker found that 86% of buyers would pay more for a better experience.
  • Genesys showed that improving the experience for customers is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction and sales.
  • Deloitte and Touch claim that customer centric companies are 60% more profitable.
  • Bain & Company research shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by between 25% and 95%.

These numbers should be sufficient to convince every CEO that a customer-first strategy is worth investing in. In fact, it is an essential strategy every CEO would be wise to adopt, no matter what industry they are in.

So what are you or your CEO waiting for? Did I miss a different problem you are currently facing? What other challenges have you faced or are now facing in adopting a customer-first strategy? Please let me know by adding your comments below.

What a Customer First Strategy Means Today (Why Your Company Needs to Recenter Behind It)

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Every few days there seems to be another customer service disaster that fills the newspapers and online social media shares.

Almost every single organisation, big or small, recognises the importance of their customers. They talk about customer centricity but very few actually go beyond voicing their opinions. Why?

A customer first strategy is not so hard. Just think customer first in everything you do. So how come most businesses get it spectacularly wrong? I think the reason is because they don’t see the immediate return and it costs money to implement. What do you think?

Reasons for having a customer-first strategy

There has been enough research done to prove that the return on a customer first strategy is significant. Here are just a few of the numbers I found.

  • 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. But only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. CEI Survey
  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report
  • By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Customers 2020 Report
  • A 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. Bain & Co

Those are numbers that would make any CEO sit up and take notice! But will it make them act? What’s holding them back from investing in their customers rather than (just) in the products and services they offer?

I believe that those numbers can no longer be ignored. It’s time every CEO started initiating a move to a more customer centric organisation. NO more excuses; this has to be (OK, one of) your top priorities!


If you’re ready to put your customers first, then why not sign up and join the FREE Customer First Strategy Webinar. In it, I share many Tips, Tools and Templates to improve your Customer Targeting, Understanding & Engagement to Grow your Business Faster.

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Marketing are too busy building brands

With so much information available today, marketing is being challenged to demonstrate its ROI. This might explain why they are still putting their efforts into brand building, sometimes to the detriment of their customers, consumers and clients.

However, an analysis run by IBM on research carried out in the UK last year by the Callcredit Information Group gives a different reason. They found that the majority of marketers is feeling overwhelmed by all this data. Their explanation for this is that "only 29% of marketers believe they have the necessary skills to analyse data, with 44% planning on investing in further training over the next two years to boost confidence within their organisations around the handling of information." 

According to a Forrester report, 44% of B2C marketers are using big data and analytics to improve responsiveness to customer interactions. But of equal importance in terms of top two mentions, is the desire to generate insights. ( Source)

Top 3 critical factors to marketing program success

It surprises me that despite the constant flow of data into companies they still lack insights into their customers. As I'm often quoted as saying:

"We're drowning in data but thirsting for insights."

Marketing is clearly so busy using data to manage pricing, distribution and communication channels, that they are not using the information to get to know their customers better. This conclusion is confirmed by a and-sales/#3fdc714521cf">Forbes article which mentions that marketing is using big data to provide answers to "which content is the most effective, how to increase conversion rates and customer lifetime value." It would be good if they used it to increase satisfaction and loyalty, no?

Big data has actually done customer understanding a disfavour since organisations are hardly increasing their spend on market research according to ESOMAR's latest industry figures. The industry grew a measly 2.2% in 2015, the first "significant" growth recorded in five years! Compare this to the more than 4% increases recorded for ad spend over the past five years.

 

ESOMAR MR industry growthTrends in ad spend

 

 

But there is some hope. A recent report on the KPIs used by marketing showed that Marketers are using a variety of metrics to measure the impact of their brand marketing activities. and.me/state-of-branding-report-2017/">(OnBrand Magazine study) In surveying more than 560 global brand managers and CMOs, the analysis concludes that new customer acquisition (75%) and social media engagement (72%) are the two primary ways they use to determine the success of their brand marketing efforts.

However, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A 2016 and-insight/2016-cmo-summit-survey-highlights">Spencer Stuart survey shows data analysis and insights are one of the three main areas where CMOs need the most development as a leader. Unfortunately, they are also the skills which more than a half of them say are most difficult to find when building a team!

 

CMOs need more analytical skills

Marketing team skills needed

So if CMOs can't develop insight about their customers, shouldn't market research be more not less important to them? After all, it's the one profession which spends its whole time trying to understand the market and customers. So what's going wrong?

 

Market research is seen as a cost, not an investment

Companies still need market research to understand their customers. Yes, there is a wealth of information flooding into organisations with the IoT, but those numbers don't tell you their "why." That's where market research comes into its own. It needs to provide more "why" answers and not just the mere statistics they seem comfortable dropping on the laps of executives and marketers alike.

I believe that (a large?) part of the issue is also the researchers themselves. They're not sociable, speak a language others don't understand and seem afraid to voice their own opinion let alone make recommendations.

This was recently confirmed in The Vermeer Millward Brown Insights 2020 research. It clearly showed the advantages of a senior market research position at board level. But to get there, most researchers need new skills. The critical capabilities which were said to highlight the biggest differences between leaders and laggards were in business acumen, creative solution thinking, storytelling and direction setting.

It seems a real pity to me that the very people who should benefit from the explosion in data availability are not profiting from it. As if their needed skills are not enough, there is also a real opportunity for them to lead the customer first strategy in many organisations.

Customer services are seen as complaint handlers

When I was first hired to head up the global consumer excellence division for Nestle, I found a group of siloed departments which rarely shared information. Even worse, the customer care centre was seen as mere complaint handlers. Their image was of a group of women who spent their days on the phone talking to other women!

I don't think Nestle were the only ones who had this image at that time. I still find similar perceptions in many organisations which thankfully become my clients through a desire to make changes.

You only have to take a look at companies which excel at customer care to realise the business benefits of putting the customer first. Amazon, Southwest, Zappos to name but a few.

An excellent article by Shep Hyken called " and-customer-experience-cx-trends-for-2017/#415839175e58">Ten Customer Service And Customer Experience Trends For 2017" details the essentials of a forward-thinking customer-first strategy and what it means today. In it, he mentions that "According to Forrester, 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority. A study from NewVoiceMedia indicates that companies lose more than $62 billion due to poor customer service. No company can afford to be a customer service laggard."

The Forrester report from which Shep quotes was from an ongoing analysis that has been run each year since 2010. The key findings from the 2016 report showed:

  • In all five sectors they covered, companies with higher customer experience (CX) scores outperformed their rivals in revenue growth
  • CX leaders showed an annual growth rate of 17% compared to just 3% for the others.
  • The cable and retail industries beat the field in CX by 24% and 26%, which is a huge boost to the bottom line.
  • Even in the sector with the smallest range (airlines), there was a 5% difference between companies.
  • This also translated into subscriber growth – in the cable industry leaders grew internet subscribers by 23.9% more than others and video subscribers by 13.9%

Along with the previously mentioned statistics, I can see no reason for a company not to invest in a customer-first strategy. If you can think of any yourself, then I'd love to hear them in the comments below.

 

In conclusion

So to answer the title of this article, a customer first strategy needs an organisation to recenter itself behind this company-wide objective. It can make a real difference in terms of both sales and profits to those who follow this direction. But it is essential to have executive support and true commitment from every employee to think customer first.

 

It will take skill upgrades for both marketing and market research departments to translate the data and information gathered into actionable insights.
And it will mean every employee having the chance to get close up and personal with customers. This is the only way for them to understand the role they play in satisfying and delighting them.

 

Are you ready to adopt a customer-first strategy? If so, then let's discuss how you can identify the priority changes needed through our proprietary C3C Evaluator tool. Book a free half-hour strategy session and we will send you the link.

 

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