Customer centricity has been a bustling buzzword for many decades, meriting sincere boardroom attention. While companies have mapped their unique journeys responding largely to market imperatives, a transition to such thinking is no longer a matter of choice. In fact, the customer must now appear at the centre of culture, orchestrating every significant action of the organisation through her irresistible diktats.
While working in the domain of brand strategy, I have witnessed various dimensions of customer centricity over the decades. A notable candidate being Domino’s Pizza, a relentless obsession not just for product development but also inspiring and rewarding employees, enlisting advocates across the value chain. ITC, in the new ventures, applies such thinking relentlessly, mostly through the lens of high-quality innovation. Some such as Swiggy and Zomato are constantly keeping pace with the changing dynamics, although arguably as reactive survival strategy. While many like Pee Safe have built entire businesses on evolving demands, the truth for so many tech-led innovations.
Yet in most instances, customer-centricity has been restricted to the consumer-delivery part of the business, transactional in orientation. It involves product development, marketing and allied front-end functions, while truthfully, it must embrace every aspect of organisational conduct as the definitions of both ‘customer’ and ‘centricity’ have changed rapidly, accelerated by the unprecedented and incalculable present-day turmoil. Thus, making it inevitable for organisations to consider this as intrinsic operational credo and not just business strategy.
Firstly, the definition of customer has evolved, now encompassing every possible stakeholder directly impacted by the company’s actions—the employees, the channel partners and, increasingly, society at large. Customers are getting increasingly influenced by the attitudes of this larger eco-system – if workers are mistreated or the planet is facing collateral damage, brand choice is impacted. We are increasingly keen to forge relationships with businesses that demonstrate purpose in action, just mere transaction will no longer be sufficient. Many researches, including the Havas Group Meaningful Brands study conducted globally, confirms this fact abundantly.
Thus, the scope of centricity will naturally extend beyond just the monetisable product or service that defines business. It will be reflected in significant actions towards every stakeholder – fairness in dealings, adherence to stated credo, triple bottom line and situational sensitivity. Equally, at an operational level, being ahead of the customer’s demands must be an integral element of departmental initiatives, to build differentiated experiences. There is much ruckus about policies being damaging to human dignity, such companies are likely to bear the brunt of customer fury. Just as Starbucks had to fundamentally change customer processes (zero minimum order) to combat a racial slur.
So how will companies old and new define the foundations of customer centricity? The first step is to clearly articulate an Integrity Statement, the integrated value proposition of the organisation at large. This must be ownable and not necessarily unique, as the latter is almost impossible to achieve in such an open source world. It must be inspired by humans and the commitment towards a truthful contribution to society, driven by values which are both emerging and timeless. The domains of influence must appear as outcomes of such a belief system, leading to products and services. Societal insights and cultural drivers must be accounted for, as significant yet evolving influencers.
Once the Integrity Statement is well written, it will be converted to the Expression Plan, its interpretation for every stakeholder of the organisation. The Board Room, Marketing & Sales, R&D, HR and others as part of the internal ensemble – extending to trade channels, distributors and OEM partners. Then its influence on customers, regulators, the markets and society at large – essentially a specific action point on making a tangible difference to their lives. Each such actor is a customer of the company, in its broadest definition, and thus this part is the vital connection to centricity, a dedicated and inspiring adhesive.
Finally comes the Growth Impact, a self-sustaining monitoring device on the efficacy of the Expression Plan. Parameters will be measured in the most accurate manner, neutral sources wherever possible or else creating in house solutions. For customers it may well be sales patterns, make no mistake that the connections to business performance must be established. For employees it may be GPTW scores or myriad satisfaction devices, for society at large carbon footprints and sustainability will be valuable. As well as the ability to provide meaningful employment and create a sensitive culture, which in turn will increasingly have a say on consumer and stock market responsiveness.
Clearly, in the post-corona world, the importance and definition of customer centricity will expand like never before. Organisations will be well advised to integrate this as part of core culture, not limiting to a transactional or business dimension only. Already today, the role of purpose and integrity has extended beyond corporate citizenry to consumer choice, performance and price no longer sufficient. The Integrity Statement, Expression Plan and Growth Impact can be a formidable trio in helping companies make this operational and cultural transition, factoring internal and external dimensions.
Companies today have been compelled to shed their glamorous camouflage and basic deliveries are being tested, with character under constant scrutiny. Those who treat their every customer fairly will certainly benefit while others, especially one-time poster boys, will have to pay a serious price. Now is indeed a great time to embrace the drawing board and win the battle for customer centricity.
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