Learning how to love and focus on the customer

Companies need to learn to love their customers, and develop a deep knowledge of their needs.
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Companies need to learn to love their customers, and develop a deep knowledge of their needs.

That businesses need to embrace customer‐centricity – a deep knowledge of and focus on customer needs – is an established management mantra. But there is good reason for that: the companies that really do it well are companies with market clout.

The need to develop deep customer relationships was far and away the dominant theme of the focus group research that informs this series. If anything the concept just keeps getting stronger as consumers exert their power to switch suppliers, source globally and find the best price and service combinations online in seconds.

In our roundtables as well, the talk about the customer was on everyone's lips. The theme emerged time and again. When talking about transformation, digital disruption, sustainability and more – it was always there.

Take this quote from our research: "Customer centricity, digital disruption and human capital: Without an unerring focus on the customer a business has no chance. Without digital disruption you will slowly wither and die. And unless you have the right human capital the first two elements are unattainable."

READ MORE:
* New Zealand's cosy 'duopolies' failing the customer
* Social media gives customers power over brands
For more information on how to transform your business, go to Transforming Business

Such interdependency makes customer focus a topic that can be hard to grasp. It involves almost everything a business does, from channels – including social media – to technology and empowered, well‐trained staff. It embraces innovation, marketing, sales, service and support and billing and logistics.

Even more challenging, performance is transparent, day in, day out, whether businesses like it or not.

"People are looking further and harder than they have," says one executive. "Use of social media and the internet is making customers more aware, wanting a better customer experience and able to compare more easily."

Not all customers want the same thing, so flexibility is vital. Some customers focus on the product or service. Some on the brand. Some want to align themselves with a company's underlying ethos – for instance, whether it is ethical and embracing sustainability.

Without a strong relationship with its customers and community, the business won't exist, one executive says.

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"Successful businesses will have a really deeper in‐depth understanding of their customers. What they're wanting will be flexible enough to be able to continue to deliver what they want, in a very rapidly changing world.

"Similarly, with respect to community, you know, a successful business will have strong positive relationships with the community where it operates, it'll be a good corporate citizen in that community, it'll give back, listen, be responsive.

"Because it has a really deep understanding of the customer base, and connection to that customer base, a lot of those things will happen in real time anyway – should happen in real time anyway."

That is enabled by digital, which gives organisations tools to interact with customers in ways they could only have dreamed about before.

One business leader argues a customer viewpoint is very different to the traditional "product" view of the world. Transformation, therefore, is all about being both more efficient and having a "line of sight to the customer".

Arguably, successful businesses should never not have the customer in sight. In that sense, customer centricity is far more than a strategy and a set of supporting tactics – it's an ethos supported by a company culture that puts the customer at the centre of every discussion, every meeting and every interaction.

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