Now is the time for customer centricity

We recently launched a new podcast series – Modern Perspectives – where we share insights from B2B leaders and explore how they deal with transformation, change and technology in a marketing context.

In the second episode, hosted by Lewis Webb, we spoke with two innovation experts to get their thoughts on customer-centricity and how the pandemic has changed customer demands. Here’s what went down. You can also listen to the Modern Perspectives podcast here.

Introducing Carrie and Matt

The COVID-19 pandemic changed what customers expect from brands, both personally and professionally. Companies are having to make significant changes quickly to meet these new demands. Naturally, there are several obstacles in the way.

This episode’s guests are senior strategists who deal with questions of customer-centricity every day:

  • Carrie SeiferGeneral Manager, GWI – Carrie powers companies with the right intelligence for better decision-making
  • Nick DillonDigital Innovation Manager, EDF – Nick leads advanced AI, data and UX products across the EDF Energy Group

It’s a terrific discussion, filled with up-to-the-minute insight. Here are five highlights from the podcast.

Defining customer-centricity

What does customer-centricity mean to you?

Carrie: For me personally, it means a frictionless experience of getting to the product. But, what we see as a consumer research company is that the world wants companies and brands to support the entire ecosystem around them. For example, there’s an ad for Corona that isn’t about how refreshing the beer is; it’s about what they’re doing for ocean environments. P&G products don’t just get stains out of your clothes; they help moms get back to work.

That’s what people expect from their brands these days, but it’s hard because people are so multi-dimensional. You can’t just stick people in a bucket, put a message out there and walk away.

Nick: You can break customer-centricity down into two simple things – winning customers and retaining those customers on a fundamental basis. If you don’t offer a product or service that customers want, they won’t come to you in the first place. Then, if you don’t listen to them about that product when they’re with you, they won’t stay.

At EDF, we’ve made huge attempts to change the culture around customer-centricity and the way we talk about our customers. But, the bigger the company is, the harder it is. It’s not just the listening; it’s the doing. Turning it around takes time.

Getting it wrong

What are the key indicators that a business is not customer-centric?

Nick: Basically, it’s about listening and reacting. Is the business listening? Do they care about what customers are saying about their products? Do they take the time to go and talk to customers, engage with them and dig deep to understand their needs and challenges?

But then, it’s about responding. Now you know what your customers want, what are you willing to do about it? Are your teams that get this feedback empowered to make changes and improve the customer experience?

If you’re not doing those two things, that’s a warning sign.

Carrie: It’s about real versus fake customer-centric behaviour. It’s one thing to say in your company strategy that you are customer obsessed, but it’s another thing to have it sitting in your Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). It’s got to be in everyone’s goals, from product and engineering, not just your go-to-market teams. It’s got to be plumbed through the company’s goals with very specific outcomes and key results.

Do you have a client advisory board? What tools do you use to listen to customers? It’s got to map to a higher strategy as well as people’s to-do lists.

Meeting customers’ expectations

We know that customers are more demanding than ever. How does that impact your day-to-day?

Nick: Customer-centricity isn’t anything new, but the need to do it has certainly increased. For example, if your customer uses the Uber app and has got used to that slick service, they’re going to view your app in the same way and have their expectations ratcheted up.

From my point of view, things move faster than ever. You’ve got to be agile in monitoring the market, working out what’s going on and picking the latest trends in consumer sentiment. Then, you react to that and spin something up to create a new product that you can test with customers and deploy.

Carrie: For me, it’s being more tool-centric in order to deeply understand the customer. We’re a global company in 47 different markets, so feedback from customers can be pretty complicated – what they want in France isn’t necessarily what they want in Georgia. But, we’ve got better at using tools to communicate about the roadmap, feedback loops and go-to-market. When our salespeople hear something from the street, there’s a tool they can use to give feedback. The product team absorbs that feedback and gets it on the product roadmap (or not), and feeds back to the go-to-market teams.

Internal feedback has improved a lot since we’re all working from home and not bumping into each other. It’s one of the pros of getting everyone to work from home.

Leading the way

Which companies or verticals are responding well (or poorly) to these new demands?

Carrie: What’s interesting to me in my observations is that big companies are behaving much better. Big companies are trying really hard to get this right. They’re getting more sophisticated in how they use the data. Trust is rising in corporate America as a result.

For example, Apple has always been about promoting good design and what it does for you during your day. Now, they’ve shifted to promoting privacy. They understand that data privacy is a real concern for people, and that talking about design in the midst of a pandemic is not the right message.

Nick: Tech companies are obviously going to be the pioneers. Apple, Google and Facebook were born B2C, digital-first, with customer-centricity at heart. Unfortunately, the B2B world is still lagging behind a little bit. With the pace of innovation, it’s always going to take a bit longer for change to filter through.

But it’s catching up. Customers who use consumer apps have higher and higher expectations. The gap will close as we go forward.

How do you balance providing a seamless digital-first customer experience with treating customers as people and having that human factor?

Nick: It’s a challenge we’re aware of, but I don’t think we’ve come up with an answer yet. Customers increasingly want personalisation. By deeply understanding your customers and using the data to understand how they react with you, you can tailor the experiences you offer them. Some companies are doing quite well, but it’s a real challenge.

Remember that customers don’t really care about what’s underneath the hood. Instead, they care about the experience and what your app can enable them to do.

Carrie: The research shows an increase in appetite to interact with technology versus a human. It’s one of the outcomes of the pandemic; people’s comfort with more technology.

Companies that are winning are the ones going after older consumers. Netflix and Spotify are getting their growth from older consumers who were not already streaming. Paypal shifted its UI to make an older generation comfortable with paying through their app when they couldn’t just walk into a bank.

It’s not about how technology works or its underlying principles. It’s about the profit and loss when you use it in the right way. For example, the biggest selling point I had for AI was someone’s time. It’s how AI augments your day job and what it does for your time management. I tried a lot of different sales pitches for AI, but that was the most powerful.

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