The missing piece in customer centricity

Why most companies are not customer-centric yet [Q&A with Brian Solis]

July 31, 2014

In our recent webinar, The Four Moments of Truth that Lead to Meaningful Customer Experiences, we featured renowned keynote speaker, digital analyst and bestselling author Brian Solis. Together with Nick Stein, SVP of Marketing at Vision Critical, Brian revealed what it takes to create great experiences at each stage of the customer journey today.

The webinar’s theme mirrored ideas from Brian’s latest book, What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences, in which he explores how companies can thrive in the age of the connected customer. Experience, according to Brian, can trump your company’s product or service. It is by shaping shared customer experiences that companies can foster customer relationships.

In this Q&A, Brian reveals the importance of listening to customers, and why most companies fall short when it comes to being truly customer-centric.

What's the number one reason that companies should listen to their customers?

Listening helps companies keep a pulse on trends and on the preferences and expectations of their customers. It allows companies to gain empathy and insight—things that allow businesses to develop strategies that will help them earn relevance.

Steve Jobs once said, "Customers don't know what they want until we've shown them." Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

In Steve Jobs case, he has proven this statement to be true. But very few people are like Jobs. Therefore, I have to take this commentary with a grain of salt.

There are only so many visionaries in the world that can create markets that don’t exist yet. But at the same time, Jobs is famous for borrowing ideas from others—for example, the mouse or the graphical user interface or the MP3 player—and for using those ideas to solve problems or to create opportunities that he observed by watching or listening to people. There’s something to be said about that. Companies can observe and listen a bit more to inspire something new and to find solutions that didn’t exist before. (Editor’s note: Read Brian’s WIRED article to read more about Steve Job's approach to market research.)

What is the biggest threat facing the companies that don't listen to their customers?

The short answer: relevance. It’s critical that companies recognize that listening shows how much they value customers. If you don’t listen to people, that implies that you don’t value what they have to say or what they express.

It’s often said that the best listeners make the best conversationalists. And indeed, one of my mantras is that ignorance plus arrogance equals irrelevance. This is true for any company or anyone. We all gain from listening.

What does customer centricity means today, and what are the signs that a company is "customer centric”?

Customer centricity is a culture of putting the customer at the center of everything you do.

I have never met a company where they have said, “No, Brian, we don’t really listen to our customers.” But as an analyst, I have studied the technologies and the processes it takes to be “customer centric.” As it turns out, many companies are not customer centric at all.

Customer centricity is a way of doing business; it’s more than just a slogan. Customer centricity requires reinforcing that culture in everything you do. 

One of the attributes of truly customer-centric companies is having the infrastructure where listening is part of the culture.  There should be an infrastructure to support listening so that insights are used in the whole company, not in just one department.

Customer centricity also demands a desire to improve, to always be inspired by your customers, and to give people something they didn’t know they need or they want.

"Customer centricity is a culture of putting the customer at the center of everything you do." (CLICK TO TWEET)

Why is it important for CMOs to be data-driven?

To be data-driven implies that you will be a data scientist. And that intimidates many executives because they are already so busy with everything. 

“Data-driven CMO” is a misnomer. We’re not asking CMOs to be data-centric. What we’re asking is for CMOs to build processes and teams around data so they can make informed decisions. Being data-driven means having the necessary information to develop and execute strategies informed by real-world activity instead of just relying on emotions and gut feeling. Being data-driven is a way to becoming more real. 

The marketer's biggest challenge today is _______.

Culture.

Many organizations don’t have a culture of being truly customer centric. They don’t have the culture to enable listening. It is culture that companies have to fight against in order to expand their horizons. For executives, it is culture that lets them have access to the necessary resources, sponsorship and support to change how business is done from the inside out.

To learn more about Brian, please visit his website or follow him on Twitter. You can also watch an on-demand recording of our webinar with Brian if you missed the live webcast. 

Photo credit: NEXT Berlin 

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