Juliet Mey. Picture: SUPPLIED
Juliet Mey. Picture: SUPPLIED

It may seem counterintuitive, but the key to becoming truly customer-centric doesn’t lie in understanding who your customers are. It lies in understanding who you are.

The founder of the Echo Chamber Club, Alice Thwaite, talks about companies needing a documented, ethical framework and how this framework ultimately determines the types of audiences and employees a business attracts. Knowing who you are and what you stand for makes it easier to communicate your values, your ethics, your offering and, most importantly, the unique value your business brings to its customers. Only once there is an inherent understanding of this across the organisation can true customer-centricity become possible.

Amazon and Zappos (the US’s version of Zando) are prime examples of customer-centric brands. They have both spent years creating products, processes and cultures around customers and their needs – to the point where Zappos, for example, is said to fire employees if they don’t fit into its customer-centric culture. These efforts have resulted in their commitment to customer-centricity feeling and seeming natural and authentic.

In a recent article, Forbes listed the 10 most customer-obsessed companies of 2018. It’s interesting to note how different each company's strategy is; no two customer-centricity strategies are the same. But all the great examples do have one thing in common – they all have a brand that truly puts their customers first.

What makes a brand customer-centric?

 It’s clear that marketers need to drive the internal transition from a product- and profitability-focused culture to one that truly puts customers first and works to build long-term relationships with them. We all know that the loyalty and lifetime value of a customer drives greater profitability in the long run – it costs less to retain a loyal client than to attract a new one.

Customer-centric brands all tend to be authentic, empathetic, visionary, collaborative and agile. These are all characteristics that an organisation cannot force – they are capabilities that need to be crafted to eventually become habit. It’s either who you are or not. Therefore, leadership is crucial, and a modern leader is non-negotiable.

This is also why the age of customer-centricity might be the downfall of many companies that find it impossible to make the shift. The reason that a lot of customer-centricity strategies fail – and lead to isolated, disconnected and disappointing customer experiences – is because they invariably start with a pain and try to work backwards to reverse-engineer a message about how their business can solve a particular problem. But this is an ass-about-face approach.

The big take-out

Customer-centric brands are authentic, empathetic, visionary, collaborative and agile.

What’s really required is a leader (or leadership) who understands the need to transform from the inside-out and understands that this will take time.

It requires organisations to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. The reality is that the kind of change that drives sustainable revenue growth will not be incremental – it needs to be company-wide.

Authentic customer-centricity requires courage.

Brené Brown's new book, Dare to Lead (a must-read), does an excellent job of explaining how leaders need to behave differently in this new world: “Vulnerability is the only path to courage.” The same principle applies to your business. If you want a step change in growth, you need to have the courage to take a good, honest look at your business.

• Juliet Mey is the founder of fully integrated B2B growth consultancy Isibindi.