“We want to become a more customer-centric organisation.” As a customer experience researcher and advisor, I hear that phrase every single week. I suspect you may, too.

Achieving this is, of course, important for brand health and financial success. Customer-centric organisations are eating the world. Amazon, which seeks to “become Earth’s most customer-centric company,” is close to capturing half of all US e-commerce dollars. Southwest Airlines, which is dedicated to “the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and company spirit,” has seen its revenue passenger miles grow 67 per cent in seven years and now possesses a market share virtually equal to the US airline leader, American.

But saying you want to improve customer-centricity is easy; achieving it is not. The struggle for many business leaders is that many of the tools to transform company culture are out of their reach. It’s easy to recognise, for example, that our primary business KPIs (like revenue, margin, and stock price) are largely disconnected from customer-centric aims (such as customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy), but how many of us get to set our company’s top goals and measures?

So how can one individual help to transform their corner of the organisation to be more customer-centric? One place to start — and a particularly powerful strategy for marketers — is to use the language of people and not business. Our corporate and marketing vernacular too often obscures the customer and what he or she wants and expects. It alters our perspective, encouraging us to consider the value we wish to extract from customers, not what our customers desire and need from us. The language of marketing and commerce damages rather than cultivates customer-centricity.

For example, does your organisation have an “engagement strategy” to build “stronger customer bonds?” Are you striving to execute a “content strategy” to make your brand “top of mind?” Do you seek to make “more meaningful connections?” Are you working to foster “more authentic customer relationships?” Chances are, you are so steeped in the lingo of marketing and business you merely nodded in response to each of these questions, but those are merely brand-centric statements obfuscated beneath a thin veneer of customer jargon. Those statements all make perfect sense — from the selfish perspective of your brand.

Now, instead of thinking like a marketing or corporate leader, think like a customer. You have around 500 brands in your life, between your kitchen, bathroom, closets, devices, car, TV, and desk. With how many of those 500 do you want to “engage” today? How many of the 500 do you actively and regularly seek out and make time to read, watch, listen, and consider their “content?”  Of those 500, how many do you wish to so preoccupy your thoughts and attention that they push your family, job, friends, hobbies, and health out of the way to become “top of mind?” Honestly, how many of those hundreds of brands will you invest the time and care to “bond” with — to make a “meaningful connection” and have an “authentic relationship?”

The language of customers

The language of business and marketing sounds pretty foreign, somewhat idiotic, and even downright hostile to the consumer corners of your brain, doesn’t it? And yet, that language is so pervasive, we use it every day without considering what it means to our customers and what it says about our attitudes, biases, and intentions. If your goal is truly to improve customer-centricity, there is no reason we should expect greater customer understanding and focus to spring from such brand-obsessed terminology.

Now, let’s flip the perspective on those same questions, use the language of customers, and see how it sounds.

Do your customers want your brand to interrupt their day with emails, ads, or messages designed for brand-building engagement, or do they want to hear from you only when it’s convenient, valuable and appropriate to them?

Are your overwhelmed customers starving for more of your promotional content, or do they simply want your brand to provide the essential information they need and want at the moment it is worthwhile to them?

How do your customers want your brand to reach the top of their consciousness — by creating sponsored and influencer noise in their social networks, or by providing a product or service experience that is so pleasing, unexpected, differentiated, and significant, they cannot help but stop and register what it means to them?

And what is the most important thing your customers want from your brand today? Is it authenticity, connections, and relationships, or is it for your product or service to live up to the promise your marketing, packaging, PR and other content makes to them?

I’m not suggesting that brands cannot have self-interested goals and strategies to produce the results your organisation wants, but we should be honest with our language rather than hiding behind customer buzzwords. Co-opting the language of customer-centricity for brand-oriented goals provides no benefit for those strategies and actively damages any intentions or progress toward true customer-centricity. Large numbers of marketers have convinced themselves of the integrity of their “customer-centric” strategies to engineer impressions, clicks, and conversions based on plans that give absolutely no consideration to the wants, needs, and desired outcomes of those same customers.

Yes, it is possible for a few exceptional brands to earn authentic relationships, create lasting customer bonds, and become top of mind. All of us, after all, have a short list of brands (out of the 500 in our life) that we love — brands to which we’re loyal and for which we advocate to our friends, peers, and families. This demonstrates the value of committing to (rather than paying lip service to) genuine customer-centricity.

In Part 2, we will explore how you can start shifting toward customer-centric language and the ways this will impact your thought processes, plans, and outcomes.

Read part two here.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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