By Marci Klugman
Marci is a consultant for Noetic, and her career spans both the agency and the client side of the marketing industry. She has worked on iconic brands for companies like Procter & Gamble, Frito-Lay and Campbell Soup Company and spent more than a decade at Discovery Channel. At Noetic, Marci works with clients across various industries on brand strategy, research initiatives and marketing training.
For most of us, January means making resolutions. A time to look back at the year before and identify those areas that we can improve upon. It brings about a renewed purpose, and vigor to try harder—whether in our personal or professional lives. As part of this fresh start, January is often the time of year when many businesses resolve to become more customer-centric organizations.
Let’s face it. It’s easy to think about being customer-centric and preach its importance to our teammates. Many of us are familiar with the 3Cs model by Japanese strategy guru Kenichi Ohmae that rightfully integrates customers as one of the three critical factors needed for success. Our founder, Nancie McDonnell Ruder, has adapted this model to guide Noetic’s philosophy. In her book Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill: How Senior Marketers Scale The Heights Through Art & Science, Nancie states that the first Noetic “c” focuses on “staying connected to the customer, or being customer-centric.”
But how can you achieve that goal? How can you stay connected to your customer so that you put them at the heart of your business decision making? Implementing a customer-centric approach within an organization is a challenge that takes discipline and focus. There is no one-stop shop answer. But there are actionable steps to help you live up to that resolution.
define who you’re talking to.
Can you accurately define your customers? Are you able to embody them when you’re making key decisions on their behalf? As mentioned in Jack and Jill, marketers “must be well steeped in your products or services; you live inside this environment on a daily basis. It is never going to be natural for you to be with your customers on a daily basis, unless you are physically with them.” Yes, it’s unrealistic to physically have your customers next to you. But it’s critical to keep a clear, tangible definition of your customer alongside you—literally. And you can get creative with how you bring that tangible representation to life. Noetic worked with a client that constructed a muse from a mannequin, and brought “him” to every meeting to be sure he was represented as decisions were made. Creating a clear, tangible representation of your customers, based on qualitative or quantitative data, ensures they always remain top of mind.
take your definition further.
Being able to describe your customer is a critical first step, but it doesn’t end there. As stated in Noetic’s book, “customer-centric marketing goes further. It’s about empathy—putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.” Uncovering customer insights is a crucial component of gaining deep customer understanding that ultimately leads to empathy. This is a muscle that needs constant flexing, and Noetic relies on a tried and true methodology to move from audience definition to insight. Once you’re able to uncover what your audience needs, you’re equipped to respond in the most relatable, effective and appropriate manner.
ACTIVATE customer insights.
If you’re working in a marketing research or strategy capacity, it’s likely that you’re responsible for generating audience insights. But, everyone within an organization needs to have a firm grasp on customer needs so that all have the ability to empathize. A great insight doesn’t do much good if it sits in a strategy deck filed away in Dropbox. Instead, share those insights across all facets of your organization—either formally or informally. Everyone needs the ability to empathize with your customers in order to problem solve for them accordingly.
keep the dialogue GOING.
Once a rich insight is uncovered, customer engagement shouldn’t cease. On-going customer engagement enables you to remain customer-centric. This continuous dialogue can take on many forms—surveys, ethnographies, or store visits. And all team members, from the most junior to the most senior, should be involved. The most customer-centric companies ensure executives have direct customer interaction, as corroborated by Suddenlink Communications CMO Jerry Dow in an interview featured in Noetic’s book: “Keeping frequent customer interaction, getting on the road with technicians, working a day in the store—not as an executive but as an employee—experiencing the customer and seeing the front line.” Having first-hand knowledge and understanding of your customers across all levels of your company maintain a customer-centric approach.
Becoming and staying customer-centric takes focus and determination. But, if you can tangibly represent your customers, understand their needs, and activate this critical knowledge throughout your organization, you can turn your business resolution into a reality.