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October 20, 2016
Think your business is customer centric? It’s most likely not.
By: Andrew Finlayson

In my conversations with customers I often ask what they think is most important to their success. Without fail the reply comes back: "the customer". It’s an idea that’s as old as sales itself: The view that the customer is always right, and pleasing the customer the ultimate goal of business.

However, if we’re being honest with ourselves we’d admit this utopia of customer centricity has until recently been more apparent than real. Many of the businesses that come to us are at first structured to focus on their own needs; their primary concerns are around cost and convenience to them rather than around what works for their customers.

With the new face of digital this way of operating will change. For me, digital means that for the first time customers can really take their place at the heart of the business; with all services, products and even internal working patterns designed around amplifying the customer experience.

We’re at an important tipping point where attitudes and behaviours are changing across all industries with the realisation that if the customer is not front and centre of everything the business does, they’ll simply go elsewhere. I’d go as far as to say that for many companies, customer centricity is now an existential issue.

I realise that for some brands, including the likes of Amazon, Uber and Google, this is old news. These customer experience giants have long understood customer centricity and have adapted to it well. In fact, I’d argue that the exceptional customer experience enabled by such brands largely accounts for their successes.

You’ll find many that they have all undergone a transformational change that completely revolutionised their internal cultures, behaviours and activities. These are the pioneers—it’s now up to all others to take learnings from their progress and evolve their own organisations.

Looking outside of your industry is important and relevant too—as individuals we don’t forgive one industry if it offers a bad customer experience compared to another.

In some industries, such as my own specialism of Life Sciences, the customer first mind-set is a completely new idea and there’ll be an adjustment period. In such industries we’ve seen that the customer can have many faces: In Life Sciences it could be the patient, or it could be the healthcare professional, or even the payer. In all cases these are people that have not necessarily been thought of or treated as customers in the past.

To evolve first, you must accept the need to become customer centric. For me, this is the most important step. This shift needs to happen with buy in at the C-suite level so that the example is set top-down and employees are inspired to work towards an enhanced customer experience.

Of course, not all employees will "get" customer centricity. In these cases, I’ve found the best approach is to leverage staff who are true advocates of customer first principles. These advocates tour the business explaining exactly why customer centricity is now essential, act as communicators for change, and help bring sceptical members of staff on board.

From this foundation, you can look at practical ways in which the customer can be included in product and service development. This could be achieved through focus groups or, in the case of Life Sciences, patient advocate groups or charity organisations with Patient representatives. The single most important thing however is to include consideration of the customer in all that you do: From the prioritisation of development projects through to recruitment of new employees.

Let’s look at an example. A patient-centric pharma company carrying out a drug trial would do so in a completely different way to the past. The company would look to create the best possible experience for the people taking part in the trial. So before the trial starts there would be a well thought-out plan considering everything from whether the participant needs to travel far to get to the trial; what the impact would be on their home and work life; what the experience will be for the patient upon arriving at the centre; how their quality of life will be affected during the trial; what their logistical environment is; etc.

Now this may sound to some like a lofty ambition and ultimately a pipe dream. I can assure those people that it’s anything but. In Accenture Interactive we’ve large teams working on such projects day in, day out, across every sector, with the result that clients’ businesses have completely transformed and benefitted hugely as a result. We work together with the very best of Accenture to contribute to broader strategy actions, managing technology that underpins communication methods, evolving operations and areas such as Supply Chain, etc. to synchronise with the needs of the Customer.

In the near future there won’t be any blogs on the subject of customer centricity, because every business will be customer-centric by default.

Until that day, you need to look at your business and ask yourself: am I truly customer centric? I think in most cases the answer will be "no." All that remains then is to decide how quickly you go about remedying this fact—doing nothing isn’t an option.

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