If you’re not listening to your customers, your competitors definitely are
You must listen to be truly customer centric. Do you know what your customer wants from you, their specific expectations of your product or service, how this benefits their business, and how it adds value to them and their bottom line?
Understanding your customers´ perspective on the minimum requirements for quality and value from your products and services is critical. Customer feedback and customer conversations on what you could do differently to better serve their needs are dependent on your own ability to listen with an open mind. To have the ability to dampen down the noise of assumptions and pre-suppositions and to engage in something I like to call ‘listening with curiosity’.
Establishing a listening habit with your existing customers and prospective customers is vital. Until you understand value and quality from their perspective, you are always thinking about what you deliver with some element of internal thinking or personal interpretation of what you think they might want. The following questions help to elicit deeper responses from your customers and help to give you deeper insights into what they want from you, and more importantly, why they want it – their intention.
- What do you want?
- Why do you want it?
- If you had it, what would that mean for your company, your customers your people?
Broadening the customer conversation can contribute to the enhancement or development of new products and services. By being consultative and truly listening, we show ourselves to be true partners, open-minded, and willing to add value.
Once you have listened and really understood your customers’ needs, there are broader organisational aspects to consider to become truly customer centric.
For organisations that are high volume and lower margin, customer centricity is a key differentiator; delivering what the customer wants quickly and effectively is key. For B to B businesses, such as Commercial Insurance, the pressure of how to differentiate could start to mount as digital technology begins to reduce the unique tailored aspects of their products and services and streamline the value chains. This increases the opportunity to focus on innovation and external relationships and partnerships
Outside in approach
To be customer centric, you need to take an ‘outside in’ approach, which will have implications for how you organise your company. Customer centric value chains are a useful concept and emphasise horizontal flexibility across an organisation, helping reduce siloed thinking. Customers should be at the forefront of thinking for all the people in the organisation, not just those directly interacting with customers, but everybody – everyone is serving the customer or supporting others who do.
Customer centric value chains are based on Michael Porter’s original value chain concept, which focuses on value to the customer. A customer centric value chain is initiated by understanding what the customer wants and what they want that for and ends with the delivery of the product or service aligned to the customer’s needs. If you start from an outside-in perspective and step into the customer’s shoes and peer into your organisation, you can map a very clear value chain that is initiated by customers’ needs and which then flows across your organisation’s hierarchies and structure to ultimately deliver your product or service.
To identify and streamline customer value chains, look at your company’s purpose, what do you develop, sell, and provide to your customers, this is effectively the centre point, and everything you do radiates from there. Start small and prioritise and focus on the key products or services that add the most value to your company and your customers.
Begin by mapping the existing value chain and map the delivery of this from the initial customer touchpoints across the organisation to ensure that all associated functional processes are included, front office as well as back office. In my experience, when you map current processes horizontally across functions, it’s surprising and interesting how complex and convoluted some of these have evolved to become over time, carrying remnants of old organisation structures, layers of bureaucracy and unnecessary complications.
Once you have completed the initial mapping, you can look at which elements of the end-to-end process you should keep, which should be changed, or eliminated what could be introduced and simplified and who should be accountable for the execution of which process. Do this with the cross functional teams who are the links in the chain and work with them to look at inputs, outputs, and potential re-design and simplification of core processes. Value chains are important as they break down internal silos and start to bring in customer focused thinking.
This process works and works effectively. Start with core priorities and with easy wins for the customer, then watch the value to your customers and to your organisation increase over time.