Social CRM: customer-centricity and the need for redefinitions

CRMCustomer-centric thinking and working is the main driver in all marketing changes, we are going through, including social media marketing, email marketing, etc. Customer-centricity is not some kind of slogan.

It’s a necessity for businesses and is achieved through direct and indirect processes of listening, understanding, providing relevance and optimizing the value of content, interactions and relationships from the customer viewpoint.

Redefining customers and products

To be and work customer-centric, businesses have to broaden their definition of a customer. It’s not only the person that buys your products or services. It’s also your employee (who buys security, an environment to realize his potential and respect), your investors, the media and all people that in one way or another are connected to your ecosystem.

People also have become more than customers of products and services. They buy experiences, a sense of belonging, respect, indirect value, etc.

Your customer is a vendor as well: you “buy” his trust, confidence, respect and his entry to your digital and/or social influence sphere, even if he isn’t a customer in the strict sense. And buying does not mean getting the wallet out here. It means deserving attention and a positive attitude towards your brand by the value you offer.

What matters in times of economic recession, shifting communication paradigms and all the other marketing, communication, media, sales and buying trends we see happening around us?

That we try to have a holistic view on our customers and our business ecosystem, and that we strive to be truly customer-centric. Today’s customer is not only a social but also an empowered and cross-channel one. He is part of his own smaller or larger ecosystems and those of others: communities are your customers as well. Return is in the end still defined by your financial results but the ways leading to those results are purely a matter of the value you create for your customers and their customers, networks and value chains. Networks create value, as do communities and of course customers and that value goes far beyond the immediate sale but ultimately results in it.

The customer and the communities he is part of can no longer be defined from the “we versus them” perspective. Customers have to be involved into the very core of our CRM and business, they are not customer or buyer. They are customer, buyer, seller and manager. The other way around, our business must be part of the customer networks and buy from them!

Customer-centricity also means looking at things from a broader perspective (where do we fit in, what do we stand for, who are we having interactions with, what channels do they use and how, who influences them, what signals do they send,…) and at the same time having more personal relationships.

Customer-centricity: management, processes and people

However, customer-centricity is much more than a mindset or a way of looking at things. It is also a management issue that requires cultural changes within our businesses, strategy and management support.

It is obvious that the way we can achieve all this will depend on the type of industry we are in and many more elements. And we also know this isn’t new.

Customer Relationship Management vendors were promising a holistic single view on the customer and his life cycle before the Internet became widespread. They couldn’t fulfil their promises though. Now they can.

Aren’t we all customer-centric? The answer: no, definitely no. Being customer-centric isn’t about shouting that we are, implementing systems and hoping the rest will follow. It’s what I described above and involvement.

So, what is customer-centricity about?

  • Management, implementing processes and changing the corporate culture
  • Getting the right people and customers around the table to create multidisciplinary teams to take crucial decisions
  • A complete and radical change in the way we work, communicate and do business
  • Getting rid of the artificial walls between marketing, sales, after-sales and what not
  • Redefining the customer, the relationship and the economic value

It’s about building stories, marketing campaigns, sales strategies, stores, websites and so on that are structured around the customer’s buying cycle, his experiences, behavior and needs, instead of around our business and products.

But most of all it’s about truly listening to and speaking to the customer in his and her voice.

The customer is a fiction. Only people exist. People buy things. Your customers are people. Your company in the end is a bunch of people.

Change of corporate culture is an opportunity

Change doesn’t come rapidly. It requires time and much effort. If you don’t start by changing the corporate culture towards a customer- and data-driven model, you better forget all the rest.

We all like to say our companies are customer-centric (“look at how we integrated all our systems”). It’s not true. How customer-centric are your finance people or the guys and girls that work in your warehouse? Do you use common metrics to analyze your business and your communication efforts? Do you really listen to your customers in every contact your company has with them? When the products they purchased are not doing what they should? Think about it.

In the end it’s all about doing the best you can to change (how you think and work), about being more humble (and dropping the corporate talk), about realizing and accepting the rules have changed (and they have changed), about dialogues (talk the talk people talk and most of all, listen), about seeing change as an opportunity instead of a threat and about looking at your business from a much broader perspective. You have to start somewhere though. Do you know where yet? Do you have a plan, a response to changing business realities?

Here is a well-known quote for you: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change (Charles Darwin)”. Why should you respond to change? Anticipate! Plan, act and measure.

Where will you start?