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A customer-first approach: turn talk into action

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak)

For years, businesses have talked about putting their customers first. The old adage “the customer is always right” is regularly cited. However, there is also criticism of this ‘always right’ approach, tending to stem from people who don’t fully understand the reasoning behind the phrase. Though the customer can be ‘wrong’, their actions speak volumes and it is usually in the business's best interest to try to understand these actions to retain the custom. As such, customer data should be the core point of truth on which businesses base all of their decision making.

It is worrying then that Optimizely’s recent Digital Experience Economy report found over half of businesses claim customer-centricity isn’t focused on enough within their organisation. This is despite over 80 percent of businesses talking about the benefits of a customer-first approach. This disconnect between what businesses feel they should be doing, and what they are actually doing, makes it clear that a new approach is needed to live up to their rhetoric around customer-centricity. Today’s customer focussed businesses have found that they can deliver engaging experiences and products by empowering all areas and levels of the business to implement meaningful change. But this is only possible if businesses use customer data effectively.

Think beyond the boardroom

No one in the business knows what customers want better than those that engage with them every day. For this reason, the best ideas rarely come solely from the boardroom, they come from the wider business. Business leaders have begun to realise this. That is why 79 percent of senior business leaders claim that the customer experience would benefit if the product, marketing, and IT/engineering teams worked together more closely. This would ensure that digital transformation initiatives directly impact the touchpoints most engaged with by customers. Encouragingly, a further ninety-one percent of respondents claimed that their organisation’s employees are capable of delivering a constant flow of new ideas focused on improving the digital customer experience.

So why are businesses struggling to turn this flow of ideas into a customer-centric approach? The problem comes from rigid processes that are preventing businesses from making bold decisions and acting quickly, using customer insight. Businesses who embrace an experimentation-based mindset are far better equipped to deliver experiences that customers want. A business-changing idea can just as easily come from the customer support desk as it can from the executive team. For this reason, organisations need to ensure they have a culture that allows all employees to have a voice when it comes to customer experience initiatives.

Changing mindsets

Let’s take Amazon as an example of a business that lives up to its rhetoric of being a customer-centric organisation. Jeff Bezos famously stated earlier this year that "multi-billion dollar failures” are the key to success for Amazon, and this is indicative of the company’s commitment to experimentation as a fundamental business process. Obviously, no business wants to fail. However, this strategy gives decision-makers the ability to take risks, and ultimately innovate faster than their competitors. As the public vote with their feet, businesses like Amazon can tweak its service offering in line with consumer data — optimising services and products to best align with its audience.

While Amazon has refined this approach since its inception, other businesses are struggling to follow suit. Optimizely’s research has found that one in five organisations still have a culture where failure is not an option. In addition, over a third of business leaders say that organisational structures are making it too difficult to turn an idea into reality and team members don’t have the time to focus on developing new ideas. To build a successful experimentation programme, these attitudes need to change.

Building a continuous process

Being able to experiment and fail fast allows organisations to innovate, and stay in touch with ever-changing customer needs. This is why we are seeing progressive companies shift the way they approach experience design, product engagement, and customer experience. With the democratisation of software for gathering data, analysing data, and using data to make better products and experiences, businesses can build a closer relationship with their customers.

Senior executives can begin to shift the internal culture to embrace failure as a part of building a more successful approach. One way they can do this is by building workshops and inter-team ideation sessions where teams can come together and propose their ideas, and have an open forum to discuss things that may or may not be working for customers.

When done right, employees from all over the organisation will be able to iterate and validate their ideas, and ultimately create value for the business. Digital experimentation enables businesses to quickly rectify their failures, and capitalise on their successes. But to work, this needs to be a continuous and iterative process, harnessing customer feedback data at every stage. Employing this data-driven approach, and democratising digital experimentation technology throughout all key business functions will lead to one real winner: the customer.

Jil Maassen, Senior Strategy Consultant, Optimizely

Through her daily work Jil facilitates transformation of mindsets, drives cultural shift of leadership & product teams, and encourages replacement of digital guesswork with evidence-based optimization. With an extensive background in the startup world as well as management consulting, Jil is originally from Germany and has lived and/or worked in 16 countries. She is currently based in Amsterdam and works as a Senior Strategy Consultant with Optimizely's global client base.