What do In-N-Out Burger, Ace Hardware, Trader Joe’s, Kaiser Permanente, Nordstrom, and Mary Kay have in common? Here’s a hint: none are top-of-mind advertisers, like, say, McDonald’s or Macy’s. Yet all are cherished by consumers over their industry peers.
Why? Because these brands know that relying solely on the decades-old model of “pay to play” – that is, outspend, out-market, and out-advertise the competition to gain mind and market share – no longer produces a sustainable return. As one client put it, “we continue to mortgage our customers.”
The days of assuming hefty investment in pervasive persuasion is enough to drive growth ended right when the 21st century began.
As customers become more skilled at, and have better technology for, managing their many “vendor relationships,” they will weed out or ignore companies that fail to sufficiently understand their needs and deliver value against them. This is new consumerism; empowered, entrepreneurial, and enabled. A fundamental transformation in business – now forced to operate in a global marketplace that’s feverishly chaotic and hyper-competitive – should follow. Yet, for so many companies, this hasn’t been the case.
Why? Because they don’t fully understand what designing customers into the business entails. Leaders are making decisions based on the visible customer transaction, not the underlying complexities of the person behind it.
Mending the flaws in “customer-centric” thinking
New consumerism makes it clear: business-as-usual today denotes business-as-irrelevant tomorrow. But change is within every company’s reach. In fact, it’s been there all along.
Creating new value, innovating fast, and staying flexible enough to adapt and grow requires customers – partnering with them, listening to them, learning from them, empathizing with them, and infusing their inspiration throughout our organizations.
This isn’t a new concept. Yet, while many companies are sincerely committed to the notion of “customer-centricity,” most struggle. They don’t really believe that customer centricity is a business imperative, don’t fully understand what it really entails, lack the tools and skills to meaningfully leverage customer insights, and focus on company-centric outputs versus customer-centric inputs.
Overcoming these challenges requires moving away from where companies predict market demands and “push” products out to customers, and towards “scalable pull,” where they engage customers in collaborative learning, insight generation, innovation, and co-creation. Functioning in this way represents a profound (and necessary) shift for companies. Yet this is what truly customer-centric companies do: they systematically design the customer into the business to organically grow and thrive. We call this process Customer Inspired Growth – the best investment companies can make to achieve a sustainable future.
Proof that Customer Inspired Growth works
New C Space research corroborates the efficacy of these business behaviors. Our proprietary approach, called Customer Quotient™ (CQ™), shows that those companies that possess an empathetic understanding of their customers, and use that understanding to create products, services, and experiences that customers truly value, outperform their industry peers. It’s a new way to think about and assess the strength and quality of the customer-company relationship.
Importantly, CQ is more consistently related to business performance than either customer satisfaction or customer experience. This finding is good news, as it reveals a new (relatively untapped) lever for companies in the pursuit of sustainable growth.
Business growth will not come from optimizing current practices and operations, or even through maximizing efficiency. Rather, it will come from pursuing adaptability and agility. The most expeditious and assured way to do this is through active, ongoing engagement with real customers as real human beings, as complex people with individual thoughts, emotions, and motivations behind every decision and action. The good news is that people are all too happy to share their lives with the companies that can prove – simply by delivering on customers’ needs – that the collaboration is worth their while.
The prospect of transforming an organization to becoming truly customer-centric can be daunting. However, investing in growing the business hand-in-hand with customers strengthens the foundation of the customer-company relationship. It cultivates empathy, aligns minds, spurs innovation, and moves business forward for the 21st century. With Customer Inspired Growth as a North Star, companies will be well positioned for navigating the future … no matter what change it holds.