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Innovation is key to becoming a 'people-centric' business

Innovation is key to becoming a 'people-centric' business

By Chris Beswick, innovation, strategy and leadership expert

Putting customers at the heart of your business through the products that you offer; the marketing with which you promote them, or the methods you use to retain customers requires an innovative culture that has to start with your people.

Your customer’s voice must be clearly heard in your organisation every day in order for your business to create a non-siloed, problem solving, innovative culture that has the agility to react rather than be immobilised as in the traditional product-orientated or sales culture.

Over the past decade I haven’t met many managing directors or CEOs who haven’t thought that their company was already customer-centric. I’ve been preached to time and time again about how “we know what products and services our customers like and we even know what they want us to improve upon and which of our new products they like”.

It is at this point I usually smile and politely respond; “I rest my case. Haven’t you’ve just told me all about your ‘stuff’ and nothing about your customer?” At this point, the realisation that there’s a lack of something I call ‘organisational self-awareness’ usually kicks in. They realise that it’s not good enough to ask customers occasional questions but that it is a necessity to engage in constant dialogue to develop a ‘relationship’ with them.

Being truly customer-centric is not about showing them what you’ve got and asking them if they like it. It is about looking at the world from their perspective and appreciating the problems they face and the things they aspire to. Without this insight, it is likely that what you do is more about what is best for your organisation rather than your customer. It’s the: “here’s what we have, how can we sell it to you” approach instead of the: “here’s what we know you want, so please form an orderly queue” approach.

When you know your customers, and I mean really know your customers, you’ll start to focus on solving their problems and tensions, and when you go beyond selling products and start solving problems you start to fuel innovation and differentiation. Why? Because, in the modern fast paced commoditised world we operate in, it is no longer about “what you do”, it’s about “how you do it”. Your competitors can copy products along with everyone else but they will not be able to do it like you do.

When you start to push forward in this way you shift your customers buying decision from the head to the heart. You are now solving problems and its changes your relationship with your customer because it is more than just transactional.

There are two points when customers talk about your business. The first is at the very bottom of the scale, when you’re pretty “poor” at what you do and, unfortunately, our customers will let everyone know about it. In the middle sits “good” but no one really mentions this as “good” has become the new “average”. At the other end of my scale is “exceptional” and this is the second point where people talk. At this level, the talk is of brand loyalty, recommendation and constant endorsement.

The difference between a customer who is “unsatisfied” or merely “indifferent” isn’t that great.  On the other hand, the customer that camps outside your flagship store ahead of a product launch does so not just for the product but because your organisation is “exceptional”.

The customer-centric organisations that differentiate do so because they understand the symbiotic relationship they have with their customers. They understand that customers provide them with problems and the organisation’s purpose is to solve them. The benefits for both are obvious but should be not the primary focus.

What they have done in adopting this strategic mindset is moved beyond the traditional lip service or, at best, superficial attempt at customer focus and, instead, they have orientated their business model around a different perspective. However, this means creating a different organisational approach to how you do what you do as it also involves being what I call “people-centric”. Striking the right balance between customer pleasure and shareholder return will always, always be done through your people. Whatever you think there’s absolutely no way to circumnavigate the journey to “customer centricity” without first becoming people-centric.

To do this, everyone in your organisation needs to understand how to collaborate on solving your customers’ problems in order for you to provide an exceptional end-to-end customer experience So, in the same way your customers aren’t ‘transactions’, your people are not ‘resources’.

Create a true relationship with your employees and inspire them to be exceptional. Then passionately forge a relationship with your customers by replacing products with solutions as the fundamental part of your value proposition. Differentiation, innovation and shareholder return will be your natural by-products.

Chris Beswick is speaking at UTalkMarketing's MI Expo on April 7 at London's Delfina. Click here to hear more from Chris and get your ticket.

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