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This Is How You Build a Customer-Centric Company

Who is responsible for the customer experience?

If you can list one specific person in your client’s company and you can actually get consensus on this from either your team or your client's team, then you’re doing better than most.

According to a new research report conducted by Boston-based agency Almighty, they found that in one global software brand, 83% of respondents said they had a leader who was responsible for customer experience. However, each of those respondents listed a different person as that leader.

This feedback isn't entirely shocking. Bain & Company’s often cited report on the delivery gap found that 80% of the companies they surveyed believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers, but customers stated that only 8% of companies were really delivering. 

A focus on the customer should be at the core of any brand's initiatives, yet still, few companies hold themselves accountable for the experience they are delivering or they don’t have a plan for improving the experience of their brand. Some don't even realize that far reality is from their own perceptions.

“What you basically find is that there's two kinds of brands that talk a lot about the customer,” said Ian Fitzpatrick, chief strategy officer and co-founder of Almighty. “People who have really great net promoter scores and people who have really, really shitty net promoter scores. “I'm not sure what the reasoning behind this is, but I do know that people who tend to blabber on about customer centricity tend not to spend much time actually doing it.”

Almighty was recently included in Forrester Research’s October 2015 report Vendor Landscape: Picking The Right Consultant To Support Your Culture Transformation as a consultancy that can help brands to advance their customer experience maturity through a culture transformation. The Forrester report states that most companies that have transformed their cultures [to be customer-obsessed] had help from outside experts.” The challenges to becoming a customer-centric organization are not easy to overcome alone, which means there is an opportunity for agencies to develop a better understanding of the customer experience and use this to drive the work they produce. 

An Attraction to Customer-Obsessed Brands

Fitzpatrick founded Almighty in 2004 with Christopher Smith, Joe Polevy, and R.J. Evans, and they started out like many young founders, working in a space that wasn't a garage but could be described using similar adjectives. 

The team soon landed work with Puma, Jay Peak, and New Balance, the latter which Fitzpatrick says helped to shape the trajectory of the agency and contributed to the team winning work with NEMO Equipment and L.L.Bean.

However, they soon realized that the clients that were driving Almighty’s team to create their best work were ones where the brand put a high priority on the experience of the customer. They paid attention to this aspect closely as the founders were refugees from a global holding company agency and had left because they specifically didn't want to make work in that style and under those type of conditions anymore. 

It’s not that they choose a customer experience as specialty, rather they recognized this trait in their ideal clients. They connected with marketers who understood the value of it.

“The work would be better if we start, not with ourselves and with our brand, but rather with our customers and what it is that drives them or motivates them -- an understanding of actual human needs,” Fitzpatrick said.

But this focus has meant a difference for them during the new business process.

“There's an entire world out there of amazing brands and amazing companies whose relevance in the last 10 to 15 years has waned, and it's probably not because they aren't on Instagram,” Fitzpatrick said. “It's more because that thing that makes them vital to people has waned or they’ve lost track of what is especially wonderful about their brand.”

Almighty’s team wanted to better understand the misalignment that exists between organizational structures and the customer experience, which led to its report Hearts, then Chartsthe result of a survey taken by 500 stakeholders at enterprise companies and 30 individual audits of customer experience at organizations.

What Is Customer Centricity?

A customer centric organization should be easy to recognize. According to Fitzpatrick, it starts with this simple mindset: “When you make a decision, any decision about the way you think about a product, the way you market a product, the way you sell a product or service, the conversation starts with an understanding of who it’s for and what they need. It means that you start with an informed perspective on who your customers are.”

That should be a logical starting point for any company, but it’s much more challenging when put into practice -- especially at larger companies where silos and divides create disparate views of who the customer actually is.

We’re designing things for one person, marketing to another, and selling to yet another, wrote Fitzpatrick.

“They don't share the data because people aren't held accountable,” he said. “There is nobody to drive accountability around this is how we make things and this is who they are for in that absence people fill the void with assumptions.”

Forrester’s report cites three main pitfalls companies face when transforming into a customer-obsessed organization:

  • "Lack of clarity. Many companies we spoke with said that even though parts of their organizations strove to be customer-centric, employees lacked a shared understanding of the intended experience they were supposed to deliver."
  • "Failure to get broad-based buy-in. Some companies fail to transform their cultures because they don’t embed customer-centricity into all parts of the organization."
  • "Loss of interest. Many companies embark on a cultural transformation journey only to lose focus before they’ve completed the job."

The problem is that customer experience spans the entire organization and the end result -- the experience -- is defined by both the larger organizational initiatives and the smallest decisions. A focus on the customer isn't a project; it's a mindset. 

How to Build a Customer-Centric Organization

Almighty also details in its Hearts, then Charts report a framework for building or improving upon customer experience to help companies think differently about how they architect a customer’s experience with their brand and how companies can make this an organization-wide initiative. Here’s their advice:

1) Define a shared vocabulary and definition of who the customer is.

In Almighty’s interviews and audits of organizations, they found that while many organizations had buyer personas, few used them at all or with consistency. Other organizations maintained separate or conflicting personas in different departments.

“It's easy to have 10 different working definitions of who the customer is and what they need inside of a single organization,” Fitzpatrick said. “That is not customer centric, that is ego-centrism.”

Organizations need to build personas based on actual conversations and research of customers, and don't overcomplicate them. Make them simple enough that everyone in the organization can understand and remember them.

2) Create a comprehensive view of customer experiences.

The customer journey is not defined by marketing, and it’s not linear. Brands need to at least attempt to map out the various different interactions a person has with that company both on the path to purchase and after becoming a customer. Identifying these points will help a brand or agency to understand where the experience is lackluster, what conversion paths need to be adjusted, and how to create an overall better experience.

3) Create a multi-dimensional view of customers and their needs.

Building a better experience means not only an understanding the company’s customers' demographic information and behaviors, but also understanding what the customer's needs and motivations are -- this is at the core of creating a better experience. If you can anticipate the emotions or desires of customers, you can tailor the experience to address these needs in the most personal way possible.

4) Measure the customer experience.

Hearts, then Chart’s author states: “Until we can measure the quality of the experiences we deliver, we’re guessing our way toward customer-centricity.”

In their research, they found that 50% of C-suite respondents said their organization uses no consistent measure of their customers’ experience.

Fitzpatrick says that determining a metric that’s can be used to prompt action, rather than worrying about whether or not it measures every small interaction, is the key.

He cites PillPack, a Boston-based company that is simplifying the management and delivery of medications, as an example of a company that uses customer experience to drive business decisions. (Full disclosure: Fitzpatrick is an advisor to the team.)

The company displays its net promoter score (NPS) on monitors in both its office and distribution centers. But beyond that, they require that every employee know the NPS or customer happiness score at all times, and executives receive bonuses and compensation based on this score.

“If you really want to drive change, keep it simple, make it universal, and let people see how it tangibly ties into what they do,” said Fitzpatrick.

5) Make executives and leadership accountable for customer experiences.

Almighty’s research found that 53% of employees they surveyed at CPG brands reported that they were unable to identify a member of their organization responsible for the quality of the customer experience they deliver.

No one knows who is responsible for the experience, which means no one is.

Because a customer’s experience spans the breadth of various different departments, ultimately, leadership needs to be accountable for that experience. Otherwise, different departments will either ignore the customer experience or create their own, which may not be in line with the brand’s goals, or the department that is in charge has no authority to make changes that impact another team’s work. The leadership is also what determines priorities and budgets, and typically if an initiative can’t secure a spot on the budget, it’s not a priority. All these can hinder the spread of customer centricity in a company. 

In addition, customer experience needs to be a factor in all company decisions -- down to the shipping company used by a brand. He cites this example: Say a company is making a decision on whether to use UPS or USPS for deliveries. If this decision is made by someone who doesn’t understand that the target customer typically works late into the evenings, then the brand’s most valuable customer is stuck waiting until Monday for that hiking equipment they purchased, rather than finding their weekend activity supplies ready for them on Saturday.

But Fitzpatrick cautions that accountability shouldn’t stop at the boardroom level. He said, “If you have an organization that doesn't make this a top to bottom priority, it will look good in your annual letter, but it won't mean much.”

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