Your leadership team may say they want the company to be customer-centric, or they may even claim that it is. Chances are, however, they are relying on the wrong metrics to prove their point. Customer centricity isn’t about imagining innovative products that you are certain your customers will love, and then building them. It’s also not about tracking NPS scores, reviewing comment cards, or conducting surveys.
Being customer-centric is about involving customers in the product development process every step of the way. This is how companies like Google, Uber and Airbnb disrupt their industries — they spend real time with real customers then build products, services and solutions — using their feedback — to meet unmet needs.
We talk a lot about customer centricity at ExperiencePoint because it is at the core of design thinking. In a world where consumers have little brand loyalty, customer-centricity isn’t a nice-to-have feature. It’s mandatory for companies that want to continue to be relevant to their customers and prosper in the future.
If you want to become customer-centric, you should make learning this skill part of every leadership training program and team-building exercise you offer. But in the meantime, here’s a quick primer on everything your teams need to do to start building a customer-centric culture.
Spend Actual Time With Real Customers
Customer focus groups are not enough. You need to spend time with customers so that you can observe them interacting with your product, and observing how they live, and work. If you are a b2b company, head to the factory floor or visit customer sites; if you deal in consumer goods or services, spend time in the shops where people purchase your wares, or visit them in their homes.
This may sound time-consuming, but the data shows that organizations using customer-centric design thinking strategies cut the time required for initial product design by 75 percent, which delivered cost savings of up to $872,000 on major projects.
Check Your Preconceived Notions at the Door
These immersive customer visits aren’t about telling customers what you think they need, or selling them on how great your current product line is. It’s a time for your team to observe, listen and learn. If you are patient, you will witness pain points with your current products, and uncover ways to innovate your offering. Sometimes these insights are simple, like moving a switch on a machine; other times it could be a profound realization, like the one that helped Airbnb transform its business model and change an industry.
Talk to Extreme Customers
Some of the best insights come from customers who loathe your products, struggle to use them, or dismiss your brand before even stepping into your shop. So don’t ignore them. Extreme customers (lovers and haters, novices and experts) can tell you exactly what’s good and bad about your offerings, and they often inspire innovations that the average consumer would never consider.
Consider one of the most famous examples of the benefits of working with extreme customers: the founder of OXO, a kitchen products company, asked his arthritic wife to help him brainstorm ideas for a more user-friendly vegetable peeler. That conversation inspired the entire OXO Good Grips product line, which reimagines common kitchen tools to be easier and more comfortable to use
You may never win over the skeptics, but gathering their insights could help you make things better for everyone else you serve.
Keep Going Back
So you spent some time with your customers, got a few brilliant ideas, and headed back to the office. Great. That’s a good first step — but it is far from the last. To be customer-centric, you need to think about customers as the most important stakeholders in this process, which means you need to go back to them early and often. Share prototypes, test ideas, ask for their feedback and encourage them to be brutally honest.
Every minute you spend getting feedback from your customers, who will ultimately use (or ignore) your products, will increase your chances of staying relevant and achieving success.