By Oracle Social Cloud-Oracle on Dec 12, 2014
Customers have changed
The reality is that life on this planet is changing. It’s more connected, more empowered and more impatient. We are all part of this change and the pace of acceleration is giving Moore’s law a run for its money. Rights and privileges once taken are never returned. While digital music might have been a disappointment for Neil Young, it still disrupted analog distribution because the consumer wanted music to be more portable and more readily available. We might long with nostalgia for turn tables and record stores, but we are not giving up our iPhone/iPod any time soon. Time to face the music, the nature of being a customer has changed, and by extension, business has changed.
What it means to serve a customer, who is changing out from under you, becomes an exercise in business model agility. The most critical success criterion for business agility is clarity of vision. When you understand how your customer shapes your market, the business tactics become very clear and the organizational complexities become less confused (note: I never said easy). Customer centricity is a CEO and Board level discussion because it is directly tied to business strategy.
Here are five best practices I’ve seen with companies taking a more modern approach to their business.
1) Listen more than you talk – What is true in life, is even more so with customer relationships. You are way more likeable if you listen first and talk second. You have more useful things to say and you are [generally] less annoying. In the era of 24-hour news cycles and social media, this is hard. Technology can help but only if you let it. It is possible to get big and small insights but you need a structural way to leverage them. Too often I see customers listening and only leveraging a subset of the insights, because the group in charge of technology is tied to a single business function. Building an organization that is intellectually curious, that seeks understanding, and respects the wisdom of the crowds, even when [especially when] it is unpleasant, unclear and unvarnished.
2) Employee Engagement matters – Customer centricity requires every part of the organization to participate as it’s the mission critical. Organizations that don’t invest in their employees are going to experience breakdowns. Engaging the employees first, so that they can reflect your brand vision, is the most critical investment you can make. Sharing with your employees your vision, your plans and how you are listening to your customers, makes them better equipped to support your mission.
3) A dose of humility is a good thing – This bit is probably the most controversial but also the most powerful. As power shifts so does the value of humility. Instead of shouting out what’s so great about your product or your company, how about talking about your customers and what is great about them? How about making the customer the hero of your product story, not the product itself. This kind of thinking opens up whole new opportunities on how you service, promote and build products. How you think about the sales lead funnel and how you see market opportunity. Humility. It’s really a big idea. What this does is open up opportunities for vulnerability and transparency. It allows you to share things that didn’t work so great and show how you are trying to improve. It suggests you could be imperfect and it leaves room for the customer to step up and advise and support your company. Hint: They already are pretty clear on where you need to improve anyway.
4) Trade control for co-creation – Since we already have acknowledged that control is no longer an option for business, how about opening up to the idea of Co-creation. Modern companies are leveraging customer feedback at the large and small scale, to help prevent problems, improve outcomes and even take new products to market. The opportunity to leverage the community to help you serve them better, is a virtuous cycle that benefits everyone. Today the best examples of this are often based on serendipity, but I am hopeful for a day where this becomes the norm and not the exception. As an innovator, I see this as very exciting to create better products more quickly, leveraging the value of the network.
5) Review your KPIs – Now that you know there are new business opportunities available to you in this era of Customer Centricity – you need to think about how to drive this strategy to operational effect. Examine your key performance indicators (KPIs). Are they optimized for alignment to your business objective of customer centricity? Are you able to measure the real top and bottom line impact of putting the customer first? Are you capturing the evidence that helps you build lasting value for your business? It’s time to make sure you’re investing in the right things to make your business grow, and we all know we can’t manage what we don’t measure.
The business of business is getting more complex every day, but so are the innovations. Letting your customers become part of your competitive advantage is how you will win.