Why Customer Centricity?
Customer Centricity should not be confused with "the customer is always right". It doesn't mean the customer can do whatever he or she wants. It doesn't mean allowing the customer to yell at call centre employees who aren't allowed to stand up for themselves. Rather, it means that the customer's basic needs are recognised and taken seriously at every stage of the Customer Journey.
If you involve the user in the development of products and services right from the outset, you will be rewarded with greater acceptance of the finished product. This sounds simple enough, but not often done in practice.. Typically, internal experts get together and discuss how to evolve a product further, and ideas are not tested until they're market-ready.
Why is that? Often, the value of customer input is simply not recognised. In many companies, product managers have been working in the industry for a very long time and assume they know the needs of the users better than the users themselves. The same goes for the product: embedded managers often assume they have the best grasp of their own product's weaknesses; additionally, there is the fear of being perceived as incompetent if they ask for outside input. Many project managers don't realise that they've lost sight of the forest for the trees. They fear that elaborate preliminary reviews and customer surveys will result in longer development times, more work, and higher costs. Data security fears also play a major role in the resistance to early involvement of users. Many companies simply don't want to communicate openly about unfinished products with their customers.
If product managers listened to customers to find out what they really want, instead of simply developing new products and services out of thin air, they would find that these fears are not justified. Contrary to what some may believe, customers understand when an idea is not yet mature, and are often grateful to be invited to participate in its development. Indeed, companies that do so are often perceived as being particularly innovative. Bringing customers into the development process early also helps with detection of errors and issues, saving money in the long run.
Customer Centricity in product and service development
For us, Customer Centricity is more than an empty buzzword. We work with a radical user focus and actively integrate the target group into our innovation projects from the outset. In the idea development phase, the target group's daily problems, needs and desires are a huge source of inspiration. Without user insights, nothing can happen. We make use of both qualitative and quantitative methods. Particularly in the case of innovation projects, a qualitative approach can be used to quickly determine where development is stuck: If you send ten people through a glass door and one of them walks into it, you don't need a larger dataset to know the design still needs some work.
At the beginning of the innovation process, we often work with "edge-case" users to explore what might be useful for the masses. For example, in a smart home concept, we would investigate the lifestyles of very different potential customers, from those who already use smart home devices to those who can't even imagine using a computer to control their thermostat. This sounds like a lot of effort, but it is extremely important. Competent preliminary research is the key to the success of a new product - or its failure.
How to do it right
As is often the case with innovative business practices, anyone looking for examples of how to implement Customer Centricity should look to Silicon Valley. Facebook, Airbnb and Uber are all disciples of radical user orientation. Uber, in particular, proves you can turn entire industries upside-down if you focus on the needs of the customer.
Airbnb has not only designed its website and customer service to conform to the needs of its users, but has also designed its algorithm to reward the highest-rated hosts. Airbnb's users' needs are not only about the price, which is often comparable to that of a hotel. Rather, it's crucial that guests feel at home, even while staying in temporary accommodation in an unfamiliar city. All of Airbnb's KPIs are based on user needs and the overnight experiences of previous guests. Moreover, Airbnb now offers a service ecosystem around special "off-the-beaten-track" holiday experiences. From a knitting class in Miami to a multiday wellness tour in Tokyo, users can book unique holiday activities via the accommodation platform.
Uber, for its part, recognised the signs of the times and changing consumer expectations regarding mobility services. At the same time, it made Customer Centricity a core value. The result? Easy ordering, reliable status updates, cashless payment, and friendly service. A business model that made taking a taxi easier and more comfortable than ever before. Here again, we see the value of Customer Centricity.
The banking sector is another industry just beginning to feel the effects of Customer Centricity. A great example from Germany is Number26. Opening an account is quick and uncomplicated, users can withdraw money from any ATM and make deposits at various affiliates. All account activity is displayed on the smartphone app immediately.
What do all these companies have in common? They listened carefully to their customers' needs and developed simple solutions for them.
Consumer Centricity concerns everyone
Consumer Centricity affects everyone in a company. It's not enough to have good products; good sales and customer service representatives – people trained to respond to the needs of the customers. From home technology to IT and PR, every employee has at least one direct customer, internal or external. Customer Centricity should therefore be part of everyday work for each employee.
This understanding is often haphazardly implemented, but there are ways to avoid this. For example, Shareground, a subsidiary of Telekom, offers tailored employee training to embed Customer Centricity into the DNA of the whole company.
Radical user orientation goes right to the core of a company and has become essential for successful management. Nobody can dispute the users' desires, and no successful company can avoid paying attention to them. Customer Centricity helps to effectively address users' problems, minimises failures in product development, and ultimately drives sales. In short, it's well worth the effort.