In the digital age, being customer-centric is considered a key differentiator by most enterprise brands. In this guest blog, Peter Armaly, Strategic Advisor for Customer Success at Oracle, explores what it really means to be customer-centric and, crucially, what that means for customers’ digital experiences:
The other day, I asked a customer what I consider to be singularly the most important business question in the age of Cloud:
“When a business claims to be customer-centric, what expectations should you have of them from that point on?”
I intended it to be a blue-sky question, something that would get the customer to envision a world where a brand’s words play out in real world execution. Now put yourself in that customer’s seat. Consider your own corporate environment and your company’s needs and objectives and how business requirements could be addressed through a vendor’s ability to faithfully fulfill their promises.
Some of your expectations of a brand’s behaviors would probably write themselves. The answer I heard from the customer was so concise I’m thinking of printing, framing, and hanging it on my office wall:
“I expect that they will know the business of my company, the objectives we hope to achieve, and the associated KPIs we will use to measure progress. That’s a starting point. As time passes, I expect the company will hold themselves accountable for tracking our ability to hit our KPIs and, eventually, they will become more sophisticated and adept at providing the right kind of information we need even before we realize we might need it. They will know what makes us unique and they will try to deliver service accordingly.”
Look at that statement and, again, remember you’re in that customer seat. Are those expectations unreasonable from your customer lens? That’s what I thought. As vendors we should all consider the bar to be set with that description of what customer-centric means to that customer. Anyone who has read my blog posts would not be surprised to learn that I’m in agreement. The description can be reduced to a few essential themes or ideals:
Knowledge - Partnership - Intuition - Intimacy
Prediction - Attentiveness - Relevance
All are powerful words in the context of a customer/provider relationship. And while they’ve been tossed around the industry for what seems like decades, the Cloud has breathed energy into each. The surfeit of data, low cost computer processing and vastly accelerated speed, myriad possibilities for data storage and manipulation, the disappearance of geography as a significant obstacle to delivering a consistent customer experience anywhere on any device, and a number of other factors have all played roles in making this the age of the customer.
In turn, companies are scrambling to understand how to operationalize and exercise the meaning of those words for customers through programs and systems. It’s vital that it gets figured out because those companies that are able to deliver on scalable intimacy and predictive guidance will be the ones who will enjoy increased retention and growth.
So what are the ways companies can operationalize such a customer-centric approach?
Yes, it seems redundant to say that a customer-centric approach needs a customer-centric model but it’s not. An approach is one thing. An approach that is formalized with a detailed model of why, who, how, and when and that provides the executive endorsement, commitment, and promise of enterprise structure and governance that such a strategy requires is something else. Every cycle needs a core upon which it can revolve and every business model needs a focus on which it can concentrate organizational purpose and energy.
In SaaS, that focus needs to be the customer. Companies that are committed to focusing their energy on consistently delivering an optimal customer experience are steadily outperforming their peers. Oracle understands this and this article highlights the executive commitment at the company around focusing on the customer as the business moves to the Cloud, “… they're making significant investments. You can see that in the way they treat their salespeople, in the evolution of roles like customer success, as well as, of course, in the products showing where those investments are heading.”
Superior digital experience
Companies that provide a simplified, yet rich, online experience to customers are perceived as being more progressive, more nimble, and easier to work with. These characteristics enhance brands and have the potential to drive higher quality leads into sales. They can also improve the odds that an existing customer will voluntarily, and through word of mouth, advocate for the company amongst their friends and industry colleagues.
The digital experience isn’t just about the webpage component, though. It’s also about the relevance and the accuracy of the content that’s made available within those pages. It’s about navigation and the responsive behavior of the code that drives the webpages.
The point of optimizing the digital experience is to engage the customer and it seems that by replicating through design the best of human care and intellect we can create the right conditions for the customer to happily serve themselves. The satisfaction they feel will be reflected back on to the brand.
It’s become a bit of a cliché but that shouldn’t detract from the need for brands to employ an outcome-driven approach when attempting to build a community of successful customers. An outcome-driven approach is conceptually simple (discover the customer’s desired outcomes and drive your service towards helping them reach those outcomes) but fraught with complexity (yours, theirs). That’s why it’s best to begin with smaller projects in order to demonstrate competence, build confidence, steadily build value for the customer, and prove cost-effectiveness.
Successful smaller projects will generate the sort of buzz that will encourage broader deployment. Smaller projects, too, are where and how a company can begin to experiment with technologies such as machine learning and predictive analysis. Knowing the outcomes of a thousand customer accounts and teaching the program how to identify patterns to determine the next most appropriate actions can lay the groundwork for repeating successful engagements at a vastly larger scale.
Why is customer choice an important consideration at all? Because the Cloud has amplified an environment of choice. Younger generations, the next wave of customers and decision-makers, have been raised knowing nothing else but seemingly endless choice. The ability to choose has enriched societies in many ways and smart companies realize they do not have much of an option any more. They must build flexibility into their products and services if they wish to grow. Viewed another way, choice is simply a manifestation of respect for markets, for the customer, and a manifestation of a brand’s goal to keep customers for life.
Want to know how your customer feels? Ask them an open-ended question.