Q&A with Juliette Connolly, Assistant Vice President, Strategy and Experience APAC
There’s a good chance that companies who label themselves as customer-centric organizations—those who pay rigorous attention to the current and future needs of their customers and align their core values accordingly—are not, in fact, customer-centric. According to a recent State of Customer Service report by HubSpot, 42% of companies do not collect customer data or feedback at all—a key piece of true customer-centricity. As a result, only 12% of consumers believe companies when they make this bold claim.
Here, Juliette Connolly, who serves as Assistant Vice President, Strategy and Experience APAC, breaks down what it means to truly embrace customer-centricity, the benefits of doing so and how she would kick off the process.
What does a customer-centric organization look like?
I see the most successful customer-centric organizations as the ones that make the customer a part of their mission, vision and values—they connect with their internal employees to understand the value they bring to the customer. It truly doesn't matter if you work in finance, it doesn't matter if you work in the mailroom; you're actually all in service of that end customer experience.
What is the value in becoming one?
Customer-centric organizations drive innovation. If you're truly listening to your customers, your people are going to come up with actionable insights where you're suddenly uncovering opportunities to actually be disruptive to the market. If you look at disruptive market theory, one aspect is the ability for emerging players to undercut you and your current products and services. But by being a customer-centric organization, what you're actually doing is disrupting the market yourself—you're the ones paying attention to the data and insights that you're getting from customers and are able to respond more nimbly to them.
When you flip the scenario around, the value of becoming one is more a case of the danger of not becoming one. If you don't have that ruthless focus on what customers want, today and tomorrow, then your business might no longer exist. I'll give you an example: In 2007, this little device emerged in the world that completely changed how we interact with everything, and it was the iPhone. And if organizations had decided to remain static, in five years after the iPhone and smartphone were launched, they'd probably not be in business any longer.
What does the organizational structure look like at customer-centric companies, and what are its benefits?
We’re seeing layers of management, which disconnect the strategic decision making from the actual customer experience, flattening out. The minute you start shedding layers of management, however, you need to have a culture that supports that—it becomes a lot more democratic in the way you interact with your employees. You need to consider how you phase in reward and recognition for people that aren't necessarily going to be moving up a hierarchical ladder.
Your employees are the only ones that can tell you about the friction and pain points that happen in their jobs. So much of the time, we talk about transformational change. And if you actually take a look at and map the employee experience journey, you suddenly see the history of hundreds of failed change initiatives because employees have created their own personal workarounds in order to be able to support how they do their work.
What are some employee skilled rewarded by a customer-centric organization?
Customer empathy, especially in your frontline workers. The closer to the top of the hierarchical pyramid you go, the less likely you are to have any contact whatsoever with your customer—and certainly not your customer of the future. Customer-centric organizations should be listening to what happens with workers who actually connect with the customer, and harnessing their ability to say, “Where are their pain points where we're not actually servicing the customer in the best possible fashion?”
What will customer-centric organizations going to look like post-pandemic?
I think there's going to be a continuing ongoing move to this notion of personalization across digitization. As long as businesses are sensitive to where the boundary is for what I call the “spooky creepy line”—it's all well and good to have a personalized digital experience, but the minute I feel you know too much about me, there’s a risk I'm going to reject your brand.
According to a recent Consumer Experience study conducted by Rightpoint, 63.2% of respondents rated Customer Experience as extremely or very important to their organization’s 2021 vision goals. Given what you’ve shared, why do you think that number is not higher?
In business, we often get to the point where we navel gaze a bit—we get caught up with the challenges and our internal processes and systems rather than looking at words and, more importantly, looking forward. For example, the McKinsey stat that always terrifies me is that in 2018, $1.3 trillion was spent on transformation efforts, but the estimation is that $900 billion of that was wasted.
So, I think there are a lot of senior leaders that become complacent: “We’re market leaders, we're number two, we're doing well,” instead of that ruthless focus on what the customer wants today and tomorrow.
Half of the respondents said they don’t employ a CMO or a CTO, but rather have a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), a Chief Experience Officer (CXO) or something similar. What is your take on these roles and how do they intersect with more traditional ones?
I see those roles as being both the advocates and the agents of customer-centric change throughout the organization. I'll use marketing as an example. Marketing has a very traditional way in which it rolls out brand advocacy, customer communications and customer interest all along the purchasing cycle. Whereas the CCO’s role is very different. It's how the customers of today and tomorrow interact with us not just as a brand but also as a holistic experience. I see that the CCO has that ability to cut through some of the constraints that a CMO would have. Whereas the CMO has to be aware of how to activate the brand, the CCO focuses on what the experience is like when customers phone into our call center.
What's the first step that brands can take to begin the process of becoming a customer-centric organization?
First of all, I would look at your organizational strategy to see if it’s aligned to or considers the customer at all. If it doesn't, there's nothing you're going to do. Point two, work from the ground up. Go actually spend some time in your call center, on your front line or talking to those employees on a day-by-day basis. Run this with a sense of real curiosity.
And finally, what makes you passionate about helping brands become customer-centric organizations?
As a leader, I find that organizations that are significantly more customer focused spend more time working with and listening to their employees. And I define my purpose as making the experience of work better for everyone. I'm passionate about it because as a consumer, I don't want stuff flung at me willy-nilly—I'm reminded of the La Tomatina festival in Italy, where everyone throws overly ripe tomatoes at each other. That's not the way I want to do business; my world is too cluttered and too busy. What I need is brands and services that are able to target my needs when I need them. And stay out of my way when I don't.
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