The relationship between business and customer has usually been one-sided. Businesses offered a service, customers would avail of it, and that was that.
Usually, the power resided in the business and the customers followed, but with the advances in technology and communication, this has been turned on its head.
It’s something that Nancy Rademaker, who gave the keynote speech on customer centricity at this year’s Deloitte Best Managed Companies Symposium in association with IMI, sees in her line of work.
Having more than 20 years of experience in how technology has transformed customer behaviour, she sees a real need for businesses to put the customer at the centre of their strategy.
“What this has done is [made] any consumer, person, human being put themselves in the centre of the world - the biggest metaphor being the selfie,” she said. “With the smartphone, we hold the whole world in our hands and what we see happening is that consumers are becoming more self-centred.
“Companies can do little else but adapt to this changing consumer and do the same, start with the customer in everything that they do.”
With that in mind, it should be straightforward to make a business customer-centric, but the reality is far from it. Rademaker mentions that for much of the talk from businesses about putting the customer front and centre, few live up to what they promise.
“There’s a lot of what I would call lip service, they will say they’re customer-centric, but they’re customer-obsessed, and I challenge them,” she said.
“I ask them to show me their KPIs, for example, and if they’re all financially related - related to revenue, gross margin, or licences and product sold, but never about the customer - they’re not [being customer-centric], as it’s not being reflected in how they deal with their employees or in the way that they coach their employees.
“A lot of companies will say that they will become a little bit more customer-centric, and in my view, you can only do it in an extreme way or you don’t do it at all. I think there’s still a long way to go”.
The reluctance to move towards a more customer-centric model is also a barrier. Some will refer to their shareholders, saying that pleasing them is more important than putting in measures.
Others will believe they’re the exception to the rule, that the changes proposed might work for the average company, but not for them as they have something different.
Others are reluctant to even consider it without having quantifiable guarantees of success.
“We talk a lot with financial institutions because they see disruption coming at them at great speed,” Rademaker said.
“Every time we speak for them and we get a Q&A afterwards, they will tell us that whatever I said was okay, but they’re different.
“They will ask me if I have examples of other companies that have done this and been successful and that is precisely what is wrong with these institutions. They want proof before they even think of changing themselves, but there is no way to prove that, in numbers it’s hard to relate them back.
“There is research [from Thompson Group] that if you can improve your customer experience, you can improve your revenue by up to 50 per cent, but they still need proof before they even start considering it, and I think that’s where it goes wrong.”
The big challenge is that it’s a major cultural shift for a company, something that will take years to complete. Therefore it’s an important goal to have for the long term, and expecting a silver bullet to fix the problem in the short or medium-term is a recipe for disaster.
“You have to start it now if you want to succeed in the world that’s coming,” she said. “The problem is that companies expect, from me and from my colleagues, that we give them the silver bullet that they can do it for a couple of weeks and then they’re done. That’s just not how it’s going to happen.
“It’s about really putting the customer in the centre and really abiding by that in every single layer of the organisation and every department. That is a tough thing to do because you have to change how people work and how they have been working for years.”