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Is your company customer-centric? Are you even aware of what this might mean for your organisation – how much change might be required?

Let’s move on from the corporate buzzwords and jargon first. Companies in every industry you can think of are being forced to become customer-centric because the way that customers communicate and behave has changed dramatically in the past five years. It is a trend that cannot be avoided.

To make the distinction clearer, consider how most companies used to be structured, with a clear executive leader (the CEO) and a span of control that extends to department heads reporting to that leader. Departments within a typical organisation might include:

  •  Sales
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Public and Analyst Relations
  • Operations and Delivery
  • Research and Product Development
  • Customer Service
  • Information Technology
  • Human Resources

That is nine functions. Each of these departments will have a manager reporting to the executive team – your own company may even have more. But think for a moment about how customers learn about your company as a brand:

  • Editorial in the press
  • Advertising
  • Marketing campaigns outside the press
  • Customer service

In the traditional corporate structure, functions such as advertising, marketing and public relations would create the brand that your customers know. Customer service was just there to offer a way to interact when things went wrong – it’s perhaps too simple to say that it was just a complaints channel, but that really was the majority of interactions that many brands would process through the department. Most customer service interactions were after a purchase has taken place.

But think about how consumers are interacting with brands today. If they stay in a hotel they might review it on Tripadvisor when checking out. If they book a flight they might tweet the airline to check on the available movies. If they have some spare tomatoes in the fridge they might ask a health food store on Facebook for a good recipe. If they drive a Chevrolet they might expect alerts on when new models are being released. If they ride a Harley Davidson they might want to know when the owners of similar bikes are in town. If they run regularly then they might want their favourite running app to introduce them to other runners in the area.

The list goes on. People are no longer just contacting brands to complain about a product purchase. Communication with brands is becoming entrenched in our lifestyle.

People want an ongoing relationship with the brands that they like.

Managing this communication has naturally fallen into the area of customer service, but this is changing. All those other areas of the business that form opinions of the brand are blending together.

The Chief Customer Officer position may still be quite rare, but you can expect to meet more of them soon. These executives will know how to present a corporate brand, how to interact with the press, how to interact with analysts, how and where to advertise, and how to manage an ongoing relationship with customers.

Becoming customer-centric is about far more than just adopting a few new slogans. It will require the blending of departments and everyone knows how protective managers are of their domain. I expect that managers with experience of interactive customer service will dominate in these positions, though some marketing managers could also do well.

Companies need to restructure their organisation around this relationship with customers. It is a fundamental reformat of anything you learned about corporate structure at business school.

Ideally, you need to create relationships so that your customers don’t just use your products, they love them. They become a part of their life. When you see people tattooing the Nike ‘swoosh’ or the Harley Davidson logo on their body, it demonstrates how people can truly identify with a product so much that they welcome it into their life.

Are any of your customers getting your logo tattooed on their arm yet? If not then perhaps you need to examine how customer-centric you really are. It’s not too late.

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