What it takes to be fully customer centric: combining an outward with an inward focus

by Yasin Sahhar | Apr 02, 2019 | Articles, Strategy

Nowadays, customer centricity is a fashionable topic. It is essential that organisations are sensible towards their customers through maintaining an effective and continuous dialogue. This is of crucial importance to facilitate customers with value and maintain a strong competitive position. Although we fully underline the importance of an ‘outward focus’ in being or becoming customer centric, a more ‘inward focus’ tells us that an organisation’s culture should also be in place in order to be fully customer centric. This article advocates a ‘customer centric culture’ in which we will explore aspects of an organisational that should be in place to be (success)fully customer centric.

What is customer centricity from an outward focus?
Customer centricity is usually known as a mindset where customers are at the centre of everything an organisation does. As an organisation, being sensible towards your customers and other relevant stakeholders is essential importance to effectively facilitate them. Creating and maintaining dialogue with customers in their entire journey is of crucial importance to properly comprehend their experience and needs. Through this, organisations are able to offer compelling offerings and facilitate customers over time.

A good example of a company paying attention to customer centricity is Slack. Some argue that the usability of their communication platform is key but in this case it is more about the voice of the customer. Slack continuously maintains dialogue with customers and translates this to their offering. Founder and CEO Stuart Butterfield stated, “When key users told us something wasn’t working, we fixed it – immediately.” This shows how devoted Slack is to put the customer at the centre.

Another example is Amazon who explicitly states it wants to be Earth’s most customer centric company. They aim to meet this goal by keeping in close contact with customers at every layer of the organisation. CEO Jeff Bezos for examples visits the customer service desk two days a year to ‘know what is going on’. This illustrates the devotion and priority customer centricity has at C-level. Also, they place customer driven innovation at the forefront. All innovations are designed and initiated in such a way that it facilitates customers with value. Another example is when Amazon made a mistake with selling books they were not allowed to sell. Jeff Bezos reacted and apologised customers personally at the Amazon’s forum.

Combining an outward and inward focus
This article makes a distinction between an outward and inward focus. An outward focus refers to the more strategic aspects of customers centricity (e.g. maintaining dialogue, understanding customer experience and making resonating offerings) where the customer forms the focal point. Despite its importance, one should also reflect upon itself. Therefore, an ‘inward focus’ for being successfully customer centric is necessary.

An organisation’s strategy can be in place, but an organisation’s culture and processes are also essential. In the case of customer centricity, internal processes and people’s mindsets should be aligned with its strategy to effectively contribute to a customer’s well-being. An organisation’s culture is so strong that it acts as an ‘invisible force’ that shapes how employees behave and act. These factors tell us exactly what an inward focus means. Therefore, besides the outward focus, an inward focus is of equivalent importance.

The importance lies in the fact that the human capital of organisations practise customer centricity. If organisations have strong ambitions to be customer centric, employees are the one who should realise these goals. Without paying attention to an inward focus, there is a danger that employees are not aligned. As such, full customer centricity cannot be successfully practised in the long run.

Making the customer smile: Coolblue as an example of combining an outward and inward focus
Customer centricity is never an end-state. Therefore, organisations should realise that they need to develop itself and recognise customer centricity is a process and not an end-state. Still, a good example who combines an in and outward focus is Coolblue, a Dutch retailer which has a strong position in The Netherlands and Belgium. They do everything to ‘make their customer smile’. From ordering a washing machine, having it delivered and installed in your house between 24 hours to extremely easy return policies, everything is centred around the customer’s well-being. In their case, the recruitment process of employees is strict in such a way that they look for people who have the ‘Cooblue DNA’. This might not seem surprising and new, but there are a couple of aspects that makes Coolblue unique. Their whole culture is centred around their vision ‘making people smile’. They reason that without the right people, they never can achieve what they have achieved so far.

What does it take for organisations to combine an outward with an inward focus?
When advocating for combining an outward with an inward focus in customer centricity, one should also know what it takes. Therefore, we lay out a couple of essentials that should serve as a starting point for organisations in paying to an inward focus.

Make a customer centric culture top management priority
Higher management should recognise the importance of both sides of the coin (outward and inward focus). It is only through incorporating the inward focus with the strategic goals of an organisation success can be achieved.

Incorporate it in people’s mindsets
Do everything that contributes to a customer’s well-being should be entangled in employees’ mindsets. Acting on behalf of and for customers should become their second nature.

Make customer experience a cross department concern
Not only marketing or customer service departments should consider customer experience as their responsibility. Rather than making it a ‘project’ or someone’s task, it should have cross organisational priority. To make this easily comprehensible for every employee, things such as ‘golden rules of customer centricity’ could be a good initiative. Another suggestion is to incorporate customer centricity as a KPI at an organisational, departmental and individual level. This stimulates the entire organisations, at different levels, to make it a priority. Besides that, KPIs serves as a monitoring and incentive tool.

Taking the employee’s journey into account
To prevent an overkill over following only a customer’s journey, organisations should also take care of an ‘employee’s journey’. Higher management should know what it is like to be an employee, in every level of the organisation. To bring this a step further, in the best-case scenario, every employee should know other colleagues’ journeys too. This helps every individual to act upon other colleagues. As such, an R&D department knows what Customer Service departments do and the other way around. This helps each individual employee to better understand what their colleagues do and take this into account when helping customers. Internal processes will be better aligned without customers taking notice of it. This will eventually better serve customers.

Make it a mission, not a concept
A final remark, organisations can only succeed in becoming fully customer centric when they walk the talk of customer centricity and make it a mission, not a concept!

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