So, you want to become a client-centric company. Now what?

Some essential ingredients for the journey

“Client-centric” is a word you hear a lot in companies these days. Not because it is trendy but because it starts to be the pre-requisite of survival success. But what does it mean and what should you do to become a client-centric organisation?

Content-wise the word means that customer is in the centre of the focus in the organisation. What drives the business are (or should be) the customer needs and wants. Philosophically all fine with the description: a company that focuses on what customers want and need should be successful as they are right on target to deliver what has to be provided for the customer, at the right time, at the right place and in the right manner. Sounds about right so far.

The first thing you can do to get “hands dirty” in client-centricity and to set yourself apart from the rest of the industry, is getting clarity on what does it mean in practice for you. If you say clients are at the heart of everything we do, how do you show this? Do you know who are your customers and why, do you understand what drives them and keep them coming back to your service/products? Why should you in the first place be client-centric as an organisation, what benefits does it bring to the business? Can you walk the talk i.e. do you consistently bring up the client view in the meetings and drive the customer agenda? As we all know, it is easier to say who you are and what do you want to be, but the harder part is when the rubber needs to hit the road.

Based on our experiences in the organisations who strive to become more client-centric, a couple of general notions and focus points which we have noticed stand behind successful implementation of client-centric business.

 

  1. Engaging everyone in the organization to the vision creation process plants the seeds for the cultural transformation

If there is one thing client-centricity is about, it is the mindset. It is a prevailing attitude of the people in the organisation. It is what drives every action, every decision made and every project initiated. The mindset dictates how strategy gets implemented in practice. Embedding client-centricity into the mindset and to the culture, where it necessarily hasn’t been a big topic before, is a hard task, but not impossible. What it takes the most are clarity, consistency and communications.

Building up a client-centric mindset in the organisation requires clarity in the vision of what does it mean to be client-centric and where it should/could take the organisation. Shinier, better, bigger, more engaging, happier - whatever the vision or the happy place to be for the organisation, be clear about it and stick with it. This is where the top management needs to all pull into the same direction and be aligned of where the organization is heading into.

Being clear about the vision helps to set the targets in practice and turns the big word of client-centricity into something more approachable and implementable. Be also aware that with the formulation of a vision lies a tremendous opportunity as well as a danger to set the right or wrong course for the cultural (mind-set) change. The selection of words, clarity in articulation and shared understanding of the vision is something which requires a lot of work and most of all collaboration to get it right.

The clear client-centric vision for a whole organisation is rarely a result of a “one person/team alone in a dark room for weeks” process, but rather a collaborative, co-created, sometimes even a bit messy and daring development process. It also requires, cross-organizational collaboration, not only those who are in the front of the client or driving client experience delivery at the first sight. It is tremendously important to involve employees across the organisation, not only management team. The co-creational process is not easy and takes somewhat more time, but as with all things a bit challenging and demanding, the price comes with the result: a vision which stands time, gains respect and engages the whole organisation by setting the clear focus of what is the reason why, raison d'être, for the organisation and its’ employees. 

Apple is (still..) an excellent example of how clear vision can drive the whole organisation and its’ mind-set. For long ago, Steve Jobs had a strong vision of what he wanted Apple to do and be, and ever since, this focus has driven the company to become what it is today. Their whole vision is purely based on a very client-centric notion itself:"We've tried to come up with a strategy and vision for Apple—it started with: 'What incredible benefits can we give the customer?' [And did] not start with: 'Let's sit down with the engineers, and figure out what awesome technology we have and then figure out how to market that.'”

 

  1. Use client insights to remove assumptions and false hopes

Getting a clear picture of who is that “client” you are focusing all your efforts around, is mandatory. And no, only demographic information about the customer won’t work. The mountain of customer data will not be useful either if you do not understand it or cannot derive meaningful insights from it.

Some useful key questions to ask when hunting down for good client insights are:

  • why customers come to you,
  • when and how they do that and
  • what kind of impact those experiences have on their behaviour with the company?

Investing in customer behaviour and their needs understanding pays off in the form of meaningful insights. Used smartly those insights can fuel client-centric transformation within the organisation.

It 's hard for the organisation to be client-centric if there is no shared nor common understanding of the who the client is and what they need. Moreover, a common understanding and collaboration is needed of how all these great insights are used to create useful foresight for the organisation. The best approach is to work two-ways around the client insights: review the needs of the business and align them on those client insights you already have. If gaps occur, find a way to to fill those gaps with new client insights.

An example of “false hope” client insights happens when the insights exist, but they are not used nor shared in a meaningful way within the organisation. Insights are stuck in the hands of those people who are educated to collect them but not strategically advised or capable to share them within the organisation. Many times what happens is that insights which are collected do not connect with the business needs and hence, end up creating a fantastic (but unfortunately false) image of the client knowledge. This way, they insert minimal value to the immediate business decisions or drive business strategic decisions e.g. opportunities to innovate, drive cost effectiveness or build new markets/segments.

Amazon is a great example of a company who has built their enormous operative business around client insights. Only think their recommendations section or people who bought this also bought that. IKEA sets the example of the varied ways they use to collect client insights. They rely a lot on qualitative, ethnographic based insights which allow IKEA to leverage those learnings to drive for instance very effective product innovations.

 

  1. Organizing the organization itself in order to best serve the customer - not the organization

This is probably the most challenging one from the all, especially in some slightly bigger organizations. How to organize the organization itself to make it client-centric? For a long time, companies have been organizing themselves in the way which makes sense to them, not to the customer. Not saying that clients should be able to understand the structure of the company as such, but clients should not be suffering from it. Client suffering based on the organization structure happens in unstructured, uncoordinated experiences which ultimately do not make sense to clients or use up their valuable time and effort. Siloed organization is not able to deliver client-centric solutions which would ultimately be positively and smoothly experienced by the customer i.e. seamless experience.

One of our all-time favourite Finnish design companies Marimekko went through a tremendous transformation back in the days 1995 when CEO Kirsti Paakkanen took the helm. One of the first things she did in the organization which was not doing really well, was to change its structure and organization model. She cut the middle-management into a fraction of what it had been in order to streamline the organization and more effectively serve the customer. Her reason to do that was “the fat middle management layer did not add any value to the end-customer” and took the focus away from what is important - the customer. At the same time, she also turned the organization pyramid upside down: from top down to bottom up, to enhance the organization’s focus to the customer, and at the same time, value the front line employees who are doing the hardest work to serve the customers. This very practical and hands-on organization model change sent a strong message across the company. Everybody inside the company knew who was at the focus: the customer.

A good starting point to understand the overall context and the required set-up to deliver awesome client experiences is journey mapping (see in Musta services a detailed description of the journey mapping). As a co-creational exercise, journey mapping brings in daylight the way organisation today delivers customer experience. It also highlights the deficits and potential to improve. When combined with the organisations process and hierarchy review, journey mapping becomes a relevant tool to understand how to best organise oneself in a client-centric manner. At best, through this collaborative process, the right people and parts of the company can come together and start to create the new set-up for the future.

 

  1. Measuring the success keeps the responsibilities and long-term engagement in focus

Becoming client-centric organization does not happen overnight nor in a quarter. Client-centric transformation is a journey. A long-term journey which requires persistence, durability, focus and determination. It will involve set-backs and wrong decisions and many distractions. For this reason, it is important to remember that in the end, the transformation is all about the people: the employees (and eventually the customers). To keep the people happy and working tirelessly towards the long-term goal, one needs to celebrate the occasional successes. Even the small ones.

In order to celebrate, it needs to be clear for everyone what to celebrate i.e. when have we been successful? The measurements in place need to be transparent, clear and drive the change into the right direction. Measures need to showcase what works and why and how they are linked to the overall transformational journey. Therefore, questions to be asked at this point in the companies require guts and transparency and honesty. Many companies are using “self-centred” measures which have been historically defined to drive the success of the company from their own perspective (or shareholder or owners’ goals) not from clients’ success perspective i.e. client-centric measures.

The dialogue of the measurement model and its’ intended strategic direction needs to happen at the top of the company and on a strategic level to have the impact. As we know, what gets measured, gets done. Therefore, recognizing the many times invisible (even cultural) value system behind the measurement model is what requires honesty and guts from the management to be changed.

In the end, the measurement model the company uses is a reflection of its’ values as well. Tying the measurement model into the client-centric values is then essential. Coherent understanding and transparency of what drives client value and why is what stands behind a client-centric company – on all levels: from culture to organisation structure and further down to the measurement model.  

 

To sum up some essentials ingredients in the transformation journey of the organization into client-centric one:

  1. Co-create to change the mindset: Engaging everyone in the organization to the client-centric vision creation process plants the seeds for the cultural transformation, which also makes the transformation sustainable
  2. Aim for meaningful insights: Use client insights to remove assumptions and false hopes
  3. Right kind of set-up: Organizing the organization itself in order to best serve the customer, not the organization
  4. Measure and celebrate the success: Measuring the success keeps the responsibilities and long-term engagement in focus

Questions, comments? Please share with us. 

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