There’s some debate over what it means to be truly “customer centric.” Some see it as synonymous with customer service. But it’s more than that.
To be truly customer centric, brands need to rely heavily on big data. Data needs to inform the in-store, online and social media experiences that consumers have with the brand. That means knowing that a consumer prefers email communications as opposed to a phone call. Customer service is a part of that, but it isn’t what being customer centric is all about.
“In order for a company to be truly customer centric, they must take customer interactions with the brand and inject them into everything they do,” said Joseph Barbagallo, manager of social media at Volvo Cars of North America. “From the services they provide, to hard products they produce to the marketing efforts they scale; they must speak to each and every individual customer, on their own terms.”
Barbagallo believes that recognizing customers in real time is key to being truly customer centric because that is how they will choose to interact with the brand. It all comes down to data.The real-time interactions your brand has with consumers are important indicators of purchase intent and what customers expect from the brand.
Last week, Ford’s CMO said that his brand uses data to inform colors, features and options people want in new car models. This is a good example of being customer centric.
Carmen D’Ascendis, director of global marketing at Jack Daniel’s, agrees that the key to being truly customer centric is understanding and taking advantage of the data that brands are getting every day through consumer interactions on social media platforms.
“If what you do is not rooted in deep consumer understanding, all you’re doing is guessing,” D’Ascendis said. “This is not efficient. Also, you are constantly on the recruitment treadmill.”
The most recent big example of Jack Daniel’s being truly customer centric is the brand’s refreshed website. It’s common practice to use analytics to inform website redesign, that’s digital 101. But Jack Daniel’s took it a step further by asking consumers via social media what they want from their experience online.
Steve Morse, search and mobile marketing manager at Omaha Steaks, said that being customer centric isn’t something new. Marketers have been using consumer insights from focus groups, online surveys and other means for decades. It’s the only way to do business.
The importance of being customer centric has grown over the last couple of years, as consumers are more empowered and can make or break you online. For Omaha Steaks, customer service is a big part of being customer centric.
“Our first question involving any decision we make is always: ‘Is this what’s best for our customers?’” Morse said.
A consumer focus helps brands make the shift from push marketing to pull marketing, which is key to vetting out who your true loyalists are. For Nissan, being customer centric means marketing and servicing each consumer the way he or she wants to be marketed to and serviced. Nissan’s strategy also relies heavily on data. It mines its online data to figure out how consumers prefer to be reached.
“It is the defined path for how we gain and retain customers,” said David Mingle, senior director of customer loyalty at Nissan North America.
In the past brands have been very focused on their product strategy and marketing strategy and have left the customer strategy out of the equation. But the rise in social media and new listening tools are telling brands that they need to be thinking about each customer as an individual. Admittedly, Mingle said, over the years, Nissan focused a large share of marketing resources on customer-acquisition initiatives and campaigns.
Over the last couple of years, it began to partner with its dealer network and made strong commitments, both organizationally and financially, to provide a customer-centric experience online, via social media and in-store that is rooted in data.
“Being consumer centric has to go beyond simple rhetoric; it really needs to be a way of doing business,” said Adam Kmiec, social media chief at Campbell Soup. “Sometimes to plus up the consumer experience, you have to subtract. It’s not what you add on — it’s often what you leave out — that makes the difference.”