The CEO of a large financial-services organization recognized that their customers were defecting to fintech disruptors, ranging from SoFi to Acorns to Robinhood. The customer base was shrinking and revenue growth was stagnant. But while everyone constantly talked about customer-centricity, the executive team didn’t realize how unfocused they had become. This became clear when they couldn’t explain why some customers were leaving and which customers should be their future source of growth.

“How can we find our way back to growth when we don’t even know who our customer is,” the CEO asked.

The company realized it needed to undergo a transformation.

Most Companies Aren’t as Consumer-Centric as They Think

The pressure for reinvention feels more urgent than ever as organizations look to find their way past the turbulence of the pandemic. Customer behavior has shifted radically and with it, so have customer expectations. Markets are resizing. Supply chains are disrupted. Digital commerce is growing rapidly. Customer experiences are the new product.

Despite these changes, companies, theoretically, are 100% committed to customer-centricity. Unfortunately, all that noise has caused many to relax their true commitment to customers — even if they can’t quite see it. (Of course, some have never been customer-centric, despite years of lip service.)

In our transformation work, we’ve come to understand the root of this lack of focus. Companies missing customer-centricity often struggle with at least some of these internal barriers:

Failing To Connect the Dots

Customer-centricity requires a deep and connected view of the customer, supporting real-time, integrated customer insights. This constantly refreshed stream of data is a tool that all functions should use, and should be buttressed by meaningful, qualitative research including deep listening and active interrogation. The data helps spot the critical shifts in customer behaviors. Tools like ethnography are critical to getting at the why behind the trends in the data. Both ingredients are critical to customer-centric growth.

Too often, companies invest in one-off research studies without thinking through how the insights can be operationalized, distributed, and refreshed over time. Or, they over-rely on data collection as the sole source of customer truth without delving into the why behind the behaviors they are seeing. Without the combination of data and insights, companies can easily lose their way.

Finally, different business units typically “own” these insights, which means they aren’t shared or connected across the organization. The result is that sales, marketing, product and service teams each see a different side of the customer, and no one is connecting the dots or able to see the bigger picture.

True customer-centricity flows from an ongoing and distributed source of new insights — this includes a combination of survey and perceptual data along with database and behavioral insights. Staying on top of what consumers want today and in the future will be crucial to identify the right products, services and experiences that lend themselves towards new opportunities for growth.

Unwillingness To Put Yourself Out of Business

Companies that pay lip service to customer-centricity build products and experiences to fit existing capabilities or business models and then optimize margins based on testing. They think about what they want and what’s good for their margins. They look at existing resources and say, “What can we build with what we have?”

Customer-centric organizations approach innovation and experience design differently. They are unencumbered by how things are done now. Instead, think about how to best meet customer needs today and in the future.

This is inherently risky. Nike’s 2017 decision to sell directly with consumers meant ditching large wholesale customers. To some, that seemed reckless.  Within a year of adopting a direct-to-consumer model, their revenue grew by nearly 6%, and Nike continues to be one of the world’s most fast-moving, beloved brands.

Fear of Going All-in

Companies that aren’t all-in on customer-centricity might think that engagement is a metric only the marketing team needs to focus on, or that managing Net Promoter Scores is a role for the servicing department. They may be willing to overhaul some areas or happy to tweak the existing business model. But complete reinvention? That’s often off the table.

However, there is no such thing as a partial transformation. Genuinely customer-centric organizations know that to accelerate growth, it takes alignment through the entire company. Whether in sales or HR, supply chain or R&D, these organizations set shared transformation goals around the relationships they seek to create with their customers, and they hold everyone to account. Hiring, compensation and operating models are linked to these customer relationship goals in ways that reinforce the right behaviors and business decisions.

Final Thoughts

Customer-centric transformation strategies are powerful for companies to gain relevance and win a place in people’s hearts. When organizations put this objective arbiter – the customer – at the center of all decisions, it provides the clarity needed to unlock growth. Of course, these transformation agendas take digital and enterprise objectives into account. But by committing to a customer-centric path–and the promise to follow those customers anywhere, companies become increasingly more relevant. They become indispensable to the lives of their customers and they find uncommon growth.

That’s what we’ve achieved for our financial services client: A complete customer-centric transformation – a coordinated multi-year effort to impact every aspect of the business. Working with the CEO, chief growth officer and leadership team, Prophet helped design and operationalize this transformation agenda, prioritizing key markets and target customers, and reimagining products, services, and experiences to make customers’ lives easier. Within a year, new business revenue rose 8%, and new leads increased 20 times over.

Contact us to learn more about customer-centric transformation and what steps your organization needs to take to achieve uncommon growth.