Putting the customer at the heart of a business is not a new construct.

But it’s a skill that now seems more elusive than ever before, particularly in a digital world where our customers can feel like they are at arm’s reach. It can be easy to forget that we’ve got a human being at the receiving end of what we do.

Most organisations have taken the necessary first steps to better orient themselves around the customer. Visible efforts have been made to democratise insights and increase accessibility to customer feedback. Leaders are championing customer curiosity and empathy and even operationalising it, by encouraging (and in some cases incentivising) employees to have direct conversations with customers. Spark, for example, have a specific ‘customer lab’ accessible to all employees to invite and have conversations with customers.

And all businesses, big or small, accept that there is no shortage of data available. The notion of ‘big data’ is pretty much gone. It’s just data. We’ve got a lot of it. It’s about making something of it. This is where we see ourselves playing a critical role as insights translators and storytellers.

And it’s what our clients are asking of us.

Evolving expectations

Businesses accept that understanding unique customer journeys is paramount, beyond competitor intelligence at a total market level. Without an understanding of what matters and when, there are countless missed opportunities to acquire more customers, or lose them in the process.

The blurring of lines between brand and experience across this journey is equally as important. How a choice makes you feel matters as much as the utility offered by the product or service chosen. As such, the creation and measurement of emotion across every journey moment is critical to building and monitoring total customer relationship strength. We are on board and leaning in to these changing expectations for insights.

Take telco as an example. Our core insights program for Spark has been reformed in the pursuit of answering a master question: How can we provide a holistic understanding of brand, product and experience performance vs competitors at critical points in the customer’s unique purchase journey?

We provide competitor intelligence on performance as customers join a new provider, use and interact with a product, consider upgrading or migrating products, seek help and care, and communicate with their provider over time. This allows us to pinpoint where experiences fall short or feel off brand, when products under-deliver or simply put, competitors are doing a better job.

"But journey mapping and customer experience optimisation is also not new, and is increasingly becoming an accepted BAU process." 

But journey mapping and customer experience optimisation is also not new, and is increasingly becoming an accepted BAU process. We’d go as far as saying this is a new hygiene expectation for an insights ecosystem.

Disrupting for growth

Longer term and sustainable competitive edge requires customer-centricity to go deeper. To us, this is an obsession with chasing customer tensions and ideating solutions (not products) that speak to those tensions. This is where true potential to disrupt lies.

Uber completely disrupted the transport industry with founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp developing a solution to a tension they themselves felt as customers, failing to find a cab in Paris during an international tech conference back in 2008.

"Disruption should be something we see as an opportunity. A place to win."

Such disruption is what clients have told us keeps them up at night. Our goal is to flip the focus. Disruption should be something we see as an opportunity. A place to win. The ability to chase this hinges on a powerful understanding of people. What makes them tick and most importantly, the central tensions that exist that they are (unknowingly) seeking solutions for. We get out of bed every day chasing the moments of enlightenment that Travis and Garett found that night in Paris.

Chasing disruption to become truly customer-centric

To us, there are several key elements to building this powerful understanding of people to unlock growth opportunities.

  1. A focus on curation over perfection. While we know more about the customer than ever before, there will always remain gaps in information. Our role is to make informed judgment calls and curate stories and meaning in the context of incomplete or imperfect sources of information.
  2. A willingness to let go of what may have worked in the past. And the past may be as recent as 6 months ago. We need to be prepared to adapt, pivot, iterate and change as quickly as customer expectations do.
  3. An acknowledgement that the industry boundaries we used to operate in no longer exist. We don’t have the luxury of defining competitive sets any more, nor are they stable. They are defined by the customer and often morph across a variety of industry verticals. Understanding the customer-defined context is critical.
  4. Leverage an understanding of culture to build foresight around what’s to come.

To us, true customer-centricity is not just about effectively executing the customer journey experiences of today, but looking for solutions to customer tensions that can differentiate and positively disrupt your business for tomorrow.

Ultimately, we believe a truly customer-centric approach is not about defending against potential disruption. It’s about chasing it and front-footing it. And we see it as our role to provide inspiration and direction in this pursuit.

Written by Terri Hall, Managing Partner, TRA