You’re sitting in a dimly lit conference room. The meeting is 15 minutes in but it feels like an hour has passed. Having missed your daily Starbucks, your eyelids begin to flutter. Your boss, back from a business trip, talks about becoming a customer-centric organization. He has charts that show improving customer satisfaction levels based on a survey, and the overused cliché count is now in the double digits. The meeting adjourns, people scatter and customer centricity spreads like wildfire!

If having a customer-centric approach was easy, there wouldn’t be hundreds of books on the topic, nor would there be a need for awards like Bearing Point’s Customer Centric DNA Awards, which poll consumers in 11 different categories to determine which companies are best at “making the customer central in all their customer contact.”

The goal of being customer-centric — in your sales, marketing, product development and customer service activities — is undeniably a good one. Being customer-centric is analogous to eating right and exercising. But we need first to define what the term really means.

The Financial Times says, “Customer-centric innovation revolves around customers and their needs. The process starts with insights on customer needs with the goal of designing a new product or service that delivers on these needs in a way that is intuitive and accessible to customers.” Key phrase: “finding solutions that are intuitive and accessible.”

Marketing guru Don Peppers defines it as a necessary complement to product centricity. “Customer-centric competition starts with an individual customer and tries to meet as many of that customer’s needs as possible – across all the company’s divisions and business units, and through time (i.e., meeting a customer’s needs week after week, month after month).” He goes on to say that “when you think about your ‘share of customer’ don’t just think about it in terms of wallet share. Instead, ask what share of this customer’s needs are you actually meeting?”

When Peppers wrote this, my guess is he wasn’t doing a commercial for mammoth banks that offer everything from 401ks to auto loans. The greater insight here is that as you develop products and services, it’s imperative to keep customer needs front of mind, but you can’t determine those needs unless you understand their work flow, obstacles and objectives. That means gaining as deep an understanding as you can.

One way we’re helping clients is by building programs that offer greater insight into their target audience. For example, if a client is looking to engage with a specific audience, we create content that would appeal to that audience — white papers, web seminars, e-newsletters — and then leverage in-house capabilities to determine content consumption habits. This allows us to categorize leads and provide information back to the client.

Here are some other ways to improve customer centricity:

• Identify your most valuable customers and prospects. If you have a good network, this is an easy one to discount, but it’s a good exercise to analyze your customers based on both hard numbers as well as subjective factors, such as past history and/or relationships.
• Invest in tools and campaigns that provide customer insights. Think about how you can leverage our lead scoring and targeting abilities to gain insights into your target audience. Depending on your web strategy, you may consider investing in software to identify and nurture leads.
• Involve customers as you develop products and solutions. Don’t simply organize a focus group after you are 80 percent of the way there on your new product. Talk to your customers as you’re progressing. Make it worth their while to function as guinea pigs and provide feedback.
Also, remember that being customer-centric isn’t a switch that gets turned on after a really good offsite discussion. It’s an ongoing process, and only those companies with a true commitment to it will get it right.

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