Beyond the buzzword – Rik Vera on what it really means to be customer centric

Customer centricity, or even extreme customer centricity, has been a popular buzzword for quite a few years. It stands to reason that by now, every company worth its salt is...

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March 29, 2017
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We all believe we’re customer-centric, but are we really?

When asked whether companies truly have a single view of the customer and believe in a customer-centric organization, a lot of them respond with a resolute: “yes, we do.” But do the experts agree?

Rik Vera smiles. “You know, it’s funny,” he says, “most companies say they try to do that, or think they’re trying at least. They think they know their customers better than they know a good friend. But as a customer myself, I don’t feel like I’m being treated as such. The difference between saying that you’re customer-centric and actually being it lies in how you measure it.

Most companies still apply external KPIs, more apt at measuring operational efficiency than customer delight: how do we track down new customers, how good are we at keeping them on board at a minimal cost and how can they generate the most value for us? It’s not so much customer centricity, these days, as customer obsession for our own benefit. True customer centricity is a new business model where you start with your customer in the center and then allow that customer to design their own customer experience with you, friend to friend. The only way to measure our success is by evaluating how good we are at facilitating that customer experience.”

Extreme customer centricity: blessing or cautionary tale,

Putting the customer behind the steering wheel of your company sounds a little daunting, but should we be cautious when implementing extreme customer centricity? Rik explains: “It is a warning, in a sense, yes. I truly believe that technology is going to change the way customers and companies interact, but I’m also warning companies to not only invest in technology, where they need to get the basics – like operating efficiency – right, but to focus on human interaction, emotions, passion and creativity too.”

Rik firmly disagrees with the ‘If I digitize to the max I won’t even need people anymore’ adage. That’s  a mistake a lot of companies are bound to make, he says, in the race to the digital top. Once the technology’s been put in place, companies should rely on people to bring emotion back into customer-centric relationships.

A hands-on guide to a customer-centric organization

To transform your organization into a customer-centric vessel, it is imperative to get senior management on board first. Rik urges managers and CEOs to simply heed the lessons they’ve learned and reassemble them in a different way, joining the dots to engage a new type of customer. This customer is already out there, waiting, and companies need to change course if they want to reach them. Managers and CEOs need to understand that the way they used to do business was very valuable in the old world, but that they will need to change their ways to conquer new horizons.

When a company decides to take the leap towards a customer-centric organization, the initial step in the transformation process should always be a listening stage. Rik makes a good point on the matter: “I believe in machine learning and gathering data because that’s what we, as people, do all the time. When we talk, we transfer data: I get your data, I use it to make calculations and I send you a response in return. If you want to succeed as a customer-centric organization, you need to find a way to collect large amounts of data from customers and use it to engage with them individually, on a personal level. You can’t rely on people to do that, but artificial intelligence (AI) can do the trick. The only hurdle in this approach is that a lot of people go about it too linearly. AI can be used for so much more than traditional upselling or cross-selling, we just need to find that creativity to steer it in a different direction.”

Next up, it’s important to find some driving forces within the company, who are looking to take things to the next level. Rik confirms that there are people like that in every organization: “We put these internal change agents in a one-week ‘pressure cooker’ where we talk about how the world around us is changing, how to present ideas to senior management and peers and how to spread ideas like a virus. You’d be amazed at how many people want change when senior management provides a safe environment for them to experiment in. You can do great things in just a few days. It’s simply a case of rewiring the way we think.”

A lot of companies are feeling desperate, but Rik reassures them with the notion that we can disassemble existing elements and just build something new, something better. Just start with the first problem and find your way from there.

All you need is the guts to start igniting change. Find or unearth the deeply passionate people, the creative spirits, the go-getters. Once you’ve rewired these change-makers, they will spread their passion and effect permanent change. The days of succeeding by being just a little bit better, quicker or cheaper than the competition are over, so don’t be afraid to get extreme. Because, after all, fortune favors the brave.

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March 29, 2017
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