I recently found myself judging the Customer-Centricity section of the UK Business Awards. A decade on from authoring an ESOMAR award-winning paper on the topic, it struck me as fascinating that the topic of Customer-Centricity has boomeranged back into vogue (excuse the Antipodean idiom of course!). Not only does it form an integral pillar of the UK Business Awards, it has re-emerged as a popular topic in market research conferences, reinforcing the theme as a cornerstone and lasting accolade of our industry. At the same time, it is interesting to ask the question as to if and how customer-centricity as a concept has evolved over the past ten years. Sure, many of the initiatives for listening to the voice of the customer have evolved, with technology, in-the-moment data capture and social media monitoring proving more important and new digital systems being used internally to monitor and socialise real time information. But what else has changed?
One of the real challenges for customer-centricity, from what I have been privy to from recent award submissions and conference papers, is that it continues to be grounded in customer feedback which is mostly retrospective although, admittedly, more real-time than ever before. As a result, organisations are generally basing their customer-centric philosophy and operating engine on an adapted version of Total Quality Management – focussing on informing change, planning, activating and measuring change to drive continuous improvement over time. Organisations embedding this philosophy are certainly seeing significant benefits, driving customer loyalty, advocacy and reduced operating costs. However, the deficit for customer-centricity still remains the big question of the future. While businesses embrace market research partnerships to help try to make sense of the future through exploring emergent consumer needs and market trends, as qualitative and quantitative researchers, we know, too well, that consumers simply can’t articulate their future needs (or even their current needs!) particularly well. And even when it comes to trends, the analysis of trends and semiotics continues to be based on what is already evident in the market, and not what might become evident in the future. This is not so much a criticism of our industry or tools (which are constantly evolving in recognition of these challenges), but an effort to highlight that true customer-centricity needs to equally consider approaches that are more balanced between forward-looking and retrospective tools, and information collection/diagnostic processes.
Post the embarrassment of representing myself as Yoda at the IIeX Europe conference, we’ve spent a great deal of time with our clients taking on this challenge in an effort to define and design Customer-Centricity 2.0. As the tools and foundational instruments (customer experience journeys, innovation and claims roadmaps, future needs elicitation, even segmentation) become forward-looking, so too can the evaluation tools adapt to consider both the impacts of marketing on past behaviour and emotional response, but also on future behaviour and the response it generates. This is a challenging vision, but without it, Customer-Centricity risks having an artificial ceiling, remaining independent from and artificially separated from the innovation, R&D and futures functions of the business.