You can’t fault a business for focusing on its customers. Or can you? There’s a lot to be said for businesses that have built themselves over the years with a focus on the customer, reacting to comments and complaints, for example, in order to tweak the customer experience and thereby increase ROI. They recognize that by treating their customers a little better than their competitors do, they can gain an edge and generate more sales.
But what they may not recognize is that this approach, grounded in twentieth century thinking and practices, isn’t the best practice in today’s vastly different marketplace. More and more, today’s organizations are realizing that merely focusing on the contemporary customer is simply not enough.
So what is the alternative?
Even CX veterans often make the mistake of confusing and conflating the terms “customer-focused” and the newer “customer-centric” when talking about the need to put the customer front and center. And it’s true the two approaches share the same goals in broad terms, and both grow out of the understanding that the customer is the most important player in any organization. But they are as different as night and day in the methods they employ, and the distinction is a critically important one in 2016 and beyond.
The customer-focused approach is often described as a reactive one, and the customer-centric approach as proactive, as explained by nanorep, a leader in cutting-edge CX solutions. As such, the customer-focused approach typically entails adopting external behaviors in response to identified customer pain points. The customer-centric approach, in turn, delves far below the surface to truly get inside the customer’s head to anticipate and address their wishes and concerns.
Put another way, customer-focused means acting the part. Customer-centric actually means becoming the customer, in the same sense in which a great actor actually becomes his role. The objective is to think like the customer in order to anticipate what the customers want by way of both products and service.
What difference does that difference make?
Theory is one thing. Real-life business practices are another. Given that, is there a compelling argument in the real world for moving beyond customer focus and realigning a business around customer-centric strategies?
You bet there is.
The argument begins with today’s consumer, who couldn’t be any more different than his or her counterpart from the last century. Credit technological advances for that. Today, every customer has the power – and the inclination, as a result – to largely shape and control their own e-commerce experience every time they interact with a business.
The devices they have at hand allow them to research a product or service on the spot and to identify an untold number of potential sources for it in a global marketplace. As a result, there are fewer and fewer ways that a business can stand out from its competitors and cultivate the level of loyalty that will enhance its reputation and maximize customer lifetime value (CLV).
That puts the customer in the driver’s seat more than ever before, and makes the quality of the customer experience the single most important factor in attracting customers and retaining them for the long run. That’s even more the case when you take into account the fact that ubiquitous social media has amplified the customer’s voice many times over. For better or worse, their friends are going to hear about their experience with your business.
Success or failure is never more than a few tweets away
Make no mistake. The contemporary customer is continually raising the CX bar, and that is why customer-centricity is taking center stage. The more limited customer-focused approach had its day. But the choice for businesses today is between authentic empathy and merely acting the part – and it is only when a business commits to empathizing with its customers that it can truly identify, address, and exceed their expectations.
That typically involves a significant change in culture as well as an investment in training and empowering talented employees, so the transition to customer-centricity is a big commitment for any organization. The payoff comes in the increased profits that result from a growing and increasingly loyal customer base.