Conrad Hilton didn’t have the sophisticated, nuanced language of the 21st century B-school to express the concept. But the hotelier who nearly a century ago set the bar for customer experience in the hospitality industry knew intuitively that customer centricity would be foundational for his business.
He wouldn’t have used that terminology, but by making it his goal to provide his customers with more than a bed for the night, and create a strong emotional connection with them that translated directly into loyalty and increased profits over the long-run, he was tapping into the basics of an idea that would become a defining one a few decades later.
The attitudes and principles Hilton espoused in the 1920s continue to guide his successors at Hilton Hotels Worldwide today, as the company’s leaders have consistently immersed themselves in their guests’ experience, garnering quality feedback and acting on the data to continually shape and refine that experience.
Business opportunity is now global, free from geographic and cultural barriers, but so are the consumer’s choices. In many instances, it’s not the products and services that differentiate one company from another anymore. Instead, it’s the quality of the customer’s experience - and with so many new options available, that customer has higher expectations than ever before.
Most business leaders know that, as a Harvard Business Review Analytic Service Report makes clear. In Making Customer-centric Strategies Take Hold, the report’s authors found that nearly three-quarters of businesses surveyed planned to implement customer-centric strategies within two years of the study, and not for vague, philosophical reasons but because those strategies are clearly linked to long-term customer value and increased profit.
So what exactly is customer centricity, and how can it be achieved?
Most of us have marveled at the way in which a great actor doesn’t merely portray a character but actually becomes that character. Customer centricity is a lot like that. It’s not just another approach to customer service, but a different way altogether of organizing every facet of business around the customer in order to create a strong and lasting emotional connection. It’s the difference between acting out a part and becoming the part, as great actors do.
The Harvard Business Review report breaks customer centricity down into discrete strategies. The first is to clearly articulate a “meaningful, human cause” - the emotional connection that ties the customer to the business. That doesn’t mean complex and flowery language, but just the opposite. The statement should be brief and clear, along the lines of the Mayo Clinic’s “The needs of the patient come first.”
Then that statement needs to be fully integrated into real life operations, and employees need to be trained and empowered to make it a reality. At the Mayo Clinic, for example, it’s said that a janitor doesn’t describe his job as “cleaning up” but as “keeping patients safe.”
Those processes then have to be aligned with the metrics that both track business success and guide customer relations. For most businesses, that involves a significant transformation, because traditional models are typically product-centric rather than customer-centric, and it is important to measure the right things and utilize data appropriately.
Finally, the study emphasizes, the customer-centric business needs to set a new standard for every facet of operations, and that standard needs to be set at “exceptional" in everything.
The transition from customer-focused to customer-centric is further explored in depth by nanorep, an industry leader in guiding and managing the digital experience. As their experts note, in customer centricity the customer service experience goes beyond a deepening of the customer-focused approach. The latter is characterized by a reactive approach that aims to respond to customers’ needs and wishes when they voice them. Customer centricity, however, calls for a proactive approach to anticipate and satisfy their needs.
Achieving that is no small feat. In fact, for most companies it represents a radical step from traditional structures, which place the product or service, rather than the customer, at the center of operations.
Becoming customer-centric is a solution for the long run
Obviously, implementing a customer-centric model is not a one-off tactic, or one that is quickly and easily adopted. It involves realigning, and perhaps redefining, essential aspects of any business in order to begin looking at operations through the eyes of the customer, and an ongoing effort to transform the customer service experience.
The payoff comes in the form of strengthened relationships with customers and, consequently, enhanced trust and increased profits. That may be especially true in this day and age when customers have taken the driver’s seat and set the bar high for customer service.