Picture: 123RF/FLYNT
Picture: 123RF/FLYNT

Introducing a customer-centred business strategy is not an overnight process. First and foremost, it’s one that requires buy-in from the C-suite with specific, focused and action-orientated objectives put in place. In addition, the value and relevance of the project need to be clearly outlined and communicated to stakeholders to encourage their support at the “launch” thereof and throughout the process of change.

The introduction of a strategy of this kind will unlock the need for change management. This is a key component of a successful shift in culture. Only once the strategy has been embraced internally, and the necessary tactics are in place externally, will change start to happen organically. If internal goals, metrics and accountability are misaligned, this will lead to conflict that counteracts customer-centred initiatives. A disconnect between departments will ultimately result in a disjointed experience for customers.

To avoid this, the entire process needs to be nurtured with a high level of input, focus, continuous management and objectivity.

The introduction of a customer-centred strategy includes the following:

Phase 1: Defining your brand and customer

The key to becoming customer centric lies in first understanding who you are. This is the foundation – the “me”. Building thereon, the “them” and “us” need to be defined.

Starting with the “me”, you will need to either conduct an evaluation of your current brand or undergo a rebrand. To have your customers at the heart of your business, you need to truly understand and empathise with them. It’s important to keep your customers involved in the process of analysis to ensure you don’t miss any gaps. Your aim is to grasp what the ideal customer experience looks like and how customers behave, think and feel at each stage.

Use all available data to create a view of who your customer is and to track them across the various touch points. This will be necessary for gauging what you need to track moving forward, in order to react and adapt proactively to your customer. A one-size-fits-all model should be avoided.

The third but equally crucial component of this phase, the “us”, entails determining internal cultural alignment and where any gaps exist. In other words, your brand essence and values will need to be mapped out alongside your culture to assess the synergy and where corrections might need to be made.

Phase 2: Bringing your strategy into play

The rollout of this strategy is a process, not a quick fix. This is the point at which the greatest amount of change management is required and where leadership from senior management, along with the appointed facilitator, is required.

The strategy eventually needs to become an organisational initiative, filtering down from the C-suite to managers and then all employees. To ensure this strategy doesn’t get lost, each team should appoint a “champion”, perhaps the HR manager, to oversee the action plan at department level.

Following on from the meetings or workshops at senior level, the champion presents the brand strategy to their team, using the opportunity to further brainstorm how they could introduce greater customer centricity to their department-specific processes.

This might involve relooking at policies and procedures, placing more focus on staff training or introducing team-building events that zoom in on customer centricity. Interview questions may need to be tailored to ensure that new hires are the right fit for a customer-centred business. These are just a few ideas.

This integrated approach, involving all team members across each department, makes it easier to put “quick wins” into action, to identify where changes need to be made and to drive long-term momentum. Bear in mind that the introduction of great customer experiences may very well not be the most inexpensive route, but it is the best for the customer. Additionally, if done correctly, your business is likely to see a good return on investment that should offset the initial spend.

Customer experience improvement is a long-term investment.

Phase 3: Reporting and optimising

Be sure that your objectives are being achieved. Build internal and external reporting and feedback loops into all aspects of the company, to ensure you remain alert and agile.

If the overarching framework is agile and robust, you will be able to tweak your processes where necessary and move forward at pace. Stress-testing the strategic framework every couple of months will provide an opportunity to look back and inform the way forward at a high level.

The introduction of a new strategy at this level is a complex and dynamic process. Customer experience improvement is a discipline and needs to be treated accordingly – it’s a long-term investment, but one that will be well worth the effort.

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