Customers: The most disruptive force in business today

The most successful companies of the future will put the customer first and invest in their employees and the communities that they serve, in order to build long-term value.

Charles Trevail

CEO at C Space

Charles Trevail is the Global CEO of C Space and Interbrand as well as the host of Outside In, a customer centricity podcast. A leader in the consulting world for more than 20 years, Charles has a successful track record of reinventing companies, brands, and experiences through co-creation and collaboration with customers. Fascinated by politics, he has advised on strategy for New Labour in the UK during the 2005 election, and Al Gore and his team on launching and positioning a leading sustainable asset management firm. Despite all this, Charles still finds time to serve as a board member for FINCA International, play soccer, enjoy the theatre, and add to his growing list of countries visited (70+ and counting!).

For twenty years, we’ve been talking about changes to the business landscape. There’s no doubt that we are living through a series of inflection moments; moments that are fundamentally changing the ways businesses operate. This change goes way beyond channel & technological advances. It goes beyond the democratization of production.

In August 2019, the Business Roundtable – 181 of America’s leading CEOs – redefined the Purpose of a Corporation, to promote “an economy that serves all Americans.” This new Business Roundtable statement outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility – one that acknowledges the successful companies of the future will need to operate beyond the sole needs of shareholders.

This shift is huge – and shouldn’t be underestimated. It recognizes the essential role that corporations can play in improving our societies, when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders.

The most successful companies of the future will put the customer first and invest in their employees and the communities that they serve, in order to build long-term value.

In this new world, where the customer’s values have to touch every line and aspect of business, the role of customer understanding and interpretation needs to change.

What a business asks and considers can’t be retrospective; it needs to become forward-looking and active. It’s insight as the headlights of a business – activating and democratizing the customer across the whole business and lighting a path for the brand to follow.

The most successful companies are embracing new ways of working – new philosophies to address the challenges arising.

We wanted to know where these leaders are headed. Who are the people finding new ways to bring customers, ideas, and different perspectives into companies? What challenges have they faced along the way? What advice do they have for CEOs, or anyone else?

We launched the Outside In podcast to answer these questions. We wanted to discuss this new landscape in more detail; to meet the people who were advancing customer centricity within their organizations, and the academics and authors teaching the world about every aspect of it.

Over the past 3 years, we’ve launched over 85 episodes of Outside In, and over the course of that time I’ve realized that “customer centricity” is much bigger than a company’s relationship with customers.

The definition has expanded into something broader: outside-in thinking. It’s an understanding of the outside world — the people, forces, and ideas that shape it – and bringing that outside perspective into an organization. It’s how you discover the possibilities for your customers, employees, and businesses.

This book is a collection of just some of the many conversations I’ve enjoyed – and lessons I’ve learned – as I’ve engaged with CEOs, CMOs, brand and insight leaders, and world class academics – through our Outside In podcast interviews and through broader conversations with clients, friends, supporters, and advocates of this new way of business thinking.

Looking across all of these different conversations, one thing is clear: there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. What works in one company won’t necessarily scale into another. That said, there is a world of experience and a world of inspiration out there. There are early winners we can learn from – and I’m pleased to have met and collaborated with so many.

I hope the ideas in this book inspire new and different ways of thinking – and new discussions in your organization.

We look forward to continuing the conversation.

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