Customers – the centre of your marketing, your brand and your business

Richard Whale

Richard Whale says there is a difference between giving the customer exactly what they want and embracing a customer-centric approach.

The old saying ‘the customer is always right’ isn’t, in my opinion, completely accurate.

It would be at this point in an article about customer centricity that the author would wheel out that old quote from Henry Ford about faster horses, but I feel it’s been done to death (and it turns out he may not have even said it).

Instead, I‘d like to take a few moments to point out what I feel is the difference between giving the customer exactly what they ask for and embracing a customer-centric approach to marketing.

Putting the customer first is one of the core foundations of good marketing. Customer experience is the key battleground for marketers and is often where successful brands make a name for themselves. However, in my opinion it’s also about aligning your brand values and delivering them consistently to customers – which does not necessarily mean giving your customers EXACTLY
what they ask for.

I’m not encouraging you to give them something they don’t want. Just don’t restrict yourself by what they’re asking for or diluting your messaging to provide something that is contrary to your brand message.

Confused? Here’s a fairly light-hearted example of what I mean: A popular and successful greasy spoon café that provides cheap, quick and ‘hearty’ grub is considering changing a few things. The manager wants to offer something a little more refined and healthy. She also wants to upgrade the décor to smarten it up a bit by buying new chairs, putting in some plasma screens and giving the toilets a refurb. While the plan isn’t to make it fine dining these are changes that will cost money and could affect prices. If the manager were to ask her customers if they wanted smarter seats, a wider range of food and brand new toilets they would probably say yes. However, would they be happy with her increasing the prices? Probably not considering one of the main USPs of the place in the first place is that the food is cheap.

Being customer-centric means focusing on what your customers’ value most and why they are your customers to start with. All business decisions should be made with the impact on the customer in mind.

Brand experience

You need to understand your customer in order to communicate efficiently and effectively

Understand your customers

In order to be customer centric you need to have a robust picture of who your customers are so that you can start building your business around them. You need to know why each individual chooses to purchase from you and what it is they value about your company. It is this information that drives your business strategy and brand promise.

The four attributes of a customer-centric businesses:

  • Know your customers – understand their lifestyle, values, and needs and listen to them
  • Customer-centric business strategy – the business should be built around a deep understanding of your customers
  • Culture – employees live and breathe customer centricity
  • Customer metrics – make sure your KPIs take into account customer interactions – you don’t want to be prioritising chasing numbers at the risk of not servicing your customers as well as you could be

How to make sure you’re customer-centric

Be accessible – make it easy for customers to connect by ensuring your website is mobile and search optimised. Make it obvious how customers can get in touch – use a range of options and let them choose which they prefer. Keep your language straightforward, friendly and jargon free – remember, you’re talking to individuals.

Be responsive – customers expect a quick response. Perhaps it’s the influence of social media and live chat but today a certain standard of reply is required. First off, you should be responding to every query, regardless of channel, so don’t offer a channel if you don’t have the resources to monitor it.

Secondly, responses have to be quick. Again, don’t offer channels you cannot monitor and guarantee a decent response rate. Respond to every single query (especially if it’s in a public environment) and do what you can to reach out to check queries have been satisfactorily answered.

Be empathetic – Empathy isn’t about fixing a problem or providing an answer. It’s about understanding why that problem is annoying and sympathising. This comes out in language and tone. Remember, it’s not just fixing something. It’s appreciating how annoying it was in the first place. It may be worth providing some form of gift or voucher to say sorry.

Be a team – companies that work in silos find it difficult to work cohesively to respond to customers. Product enquiries may go to a separate area of the business from research queries and unless you have a good internal communication structure these answers won’t be easily accessible. Try some form of internal communication platform (social media anyone?) and get employees to positively engage with it.

Another tip is to sit your teams together. When you’re trying to run a cross-channel approach it’s crucial that the different teams and channels are working cohesively and sometimes this can be solved by simply having them physically sit closer to each other.

Cross-channel communication is only possible with a Single Customer View of customers. When you understand the different touchpoints with each customer it’s far easier to talk to that person across channels and act as a team rather than individual silos.

It’s a culture and culture comes from people

As is often the case the most important factor is people. Your people and your customers. A successful customer-centric organisation consists of people up and down the company being positively engaged with the culture of customer-centricity. Whether this is through education, incentives or continual encouragement is up to you (and probably depends on your industry) but passionate employees at every level of the business is a must for your company to be truly customer centric.

A major part of this is using the same customer segment types in all communications across the business, not just marketing. This way you are treating customers with the same level of understanding and if you have a consistent tone the brand experience is going to be that much more coordinated.

For more on customer profiling read this white paper on The Art of Customer Profiling.

Likewise, customer-centricity has to stem from the customer. What you know about them, what they want and what they tell you. For this you need to have a good understanding of your audience.

Read this blog post on understanding your audience for more on how it can be done.

Experian Marketing Services is the leading global provider of consumer insights, targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing. We help organisations intelligently interact with today’s empowered and hyper-connected consumers.

By helping marketers identify best customers, find more , and then coordinate seamless and intelligent interactions across the most appropriate channels, Experian Marketing Services can deepen customer loyalty, strengthen brand advocacy and maximise profits.