The concept of ‘Customer is King’ has been around for a long time in business contexts, and is still not outdated. However, it has changed in its application. From being a slogan advising sales people to always provide the customer with what he/she wants, it now applies to the wider domain of the entire company and its people. With most current technology companies, product teams are developing from a customer-centric mindset, are taking customers’ feedback and developing products that satisfy their needs, sometimes even before customers have identified these needs themselves. The key motto for all employees is to put themselves in the shoes of the customer, and design the best experience for them, be it by improving the interaction with your product, or the interaction with your support or sales people.
As an example, take Spotify, a cloud-based music application, that appears to understand me better than I do myself. I was looking to create an inspirational playlist for a 30-minute, living room work-out session. Pleasantly surprised, I discovered a new feature which recommended songs based on my playlist title: Workout Jams After Months of Laziness. Before even beginning to look for songs, Spotify recommended up-tempo songs by Drake and Rihanna to pump me up for my exercise routine. With Spotify’s help, I was loudly blasting my new workout mix in 5 minutes, breaking into a full sweat in 15 minutes, and apologizing to my neighbors in 17 minutes. Maybe next time I’ll wear headphones.
Spotify’s ‘song recommendation’ feature illustrates the concept of ‘customer centricity’ –creating a positive consumer experience at the point of sale and post-sale. Similar to Amazon and Netflix, which identify merchandise and series based on users’ interests and previous choices, Spotify gave me what I wanted before I knew I wanted it.
In his book Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage (2011), Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, describes two main requirements for companies who want to become customer centric.
- Companies must have the ability to understand their customers at a granular level
- Companies must have the ability to deliver products and services for different types of customers
While some technology companies have fully embraced customer centricity through algorithms and targeted marketing, this concept can be applied in all industries. Some companies implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools like Salesforce to develop a 360-degree view of their customers, and others encourage and train employees to embrace a customer-centric mindset.
NovoEd worked together with a Fortune 500 financial company to developed an online course where employees successfully simulated the customer experience to develop a more customer-centric approach to finance. The course designers demonstrated their creativity in designing six fictitious potential customers:
- a bagel company looking to secure the price of wheat,
- a fishing hook company based in Japan looking to establish an agreed upon exchange rate,
- an electric car manufacturer looking to protect itself after giving a large stock option plan to its employees,
- a construction company interested in swapping future cash flows at a floating rate into a fixed interest rate,
- a microchip manufacturer looking to minimize risk after entering an exclusive contract with a distributor, or
- a chocolate company in need of liquid cash to pay the supplier of cacao before receiving money from proceeds.
By creating this simulation, the course designers addressed both of Fader’s requirements of customer centricity. Course participants selected one of the companies to make financial decisions for, which required employees to 1) step into their customer’s shoes to deeply understand their needs at a granular level and 2) understand different types of customers.
After creating playful company names (e.g. O Bagel Inc., Golden Fishing Hooks, etc.) participants explored the process of dealing with financial risk, learned about various financial products, and interacted with a financial institution (their actual employer) as a customer. As a final deliverable, the participants prepared a presentation to their fictitious company’s CEO, describing how a financial product would help mitigate risks. The simulation was highly regarded among the participants, and post-course assessments showed an increase in understanding of both financial markets products and the customer experience.
If you don’t have an algorithm to predict your customers’ needs, start by ingraining customer centricity in your employees’ minds. Through simulations, you can have them step into the shoes of your customers, thereby gaining greater insight into their experience. Not only will this be a useful undertaking for your employees, but also for you to identify different customer personas and laying out the journey they make as buyers of your product – whatever it is you are selling.