Insights

Profitable Innovation Begins With Customer Experience

Customer Centric

By Morgan Grey

Manager of Experience Strategy

There is no set formula for achieving profitable modernization and innovation in business. However, relentless prioritization of customer needs is a critical strategy for success.

This isn’t breaking news. After all, it was Steve Jobs who said: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” Unfortunately, this is often challenging for companies facing a mountain of technological decisions and challenges.

In the digital age, your customers have the ultimate power of choice. Discovery and self-education are now easier than ever. This means that consumers can choose from a broad mix of competitive products — each offering unique benefits such as personal customer service, convenience, lower price, popularity and more. And as a technology-dependent business, you have to disrupt your organizational approach to decision-making in order to create an experience that ensures customers will always choose you.

Customers first. Always.

A technology-centric strategy starts with the assumption that technology is a requirement to achieving positive KPIs, ROI and TCO, to name just a few. While not mutually exclusive, a customer-centric strategy examines customer needs as it relates to those success metrics and leverages technology where it makes sense in meeting both the goals of the customer and the business.

In fact, when you create digital solutions that are customer-centric vs. technology-centric, you not only target spend for specific return, you also elevate your strategy above your competitors — while creating meaningful solutions that build stronger, long-lasting relationships with your customers.

Being a technology and experience strategy professional with tours of duty in IT, marketing, and procurement, I’ve seen first-hand how challenging it is to embrace a customer-centric mentality when making critical business decisions. It’s easy to allow the “how we’ve always done it” mantras of finance, procurement and IT organizations to stifle the small but growing choir of customer experience change agents.

Going all-in on a single platform can be cheaper and faster. Cheaper and faster have historically been key indicators pointing to successful business outcomes, but there’s always a trade-off that ultimately affects your customer. The cheaper and faster option can often lead to inflexible and antiquated experiences, which eventually turns into a monster of Frankenstein, instead of a cohesive structure. The pursuit of so-called shiny objects often leads to junkyards of unuseful and abandoned tech.

Conversely, an organization that leads with prioritizing customer experience considerations across every decision it makes not only produces greater profitability, but enjoys increased relevance to end-users.

Disrupt from within

Despite being overrepresented within the venture capital community over the past several years, “disruption,” as Clayton Christensen defined it over 20 years ago in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, is still relevant even amid rapidly changing customer expectations. In the recent Harvard Business Review article “Digital Doesn’t Have to Be Disruptive" the authors argue that disruption isn’t just about technology: “Managers often think that digital transformation is primarily about technology change. Of course technology change is involved — but smart companies realize that transformation is ultimately about better serving customer needs.”

At its core, disruption happens when customers are prioritized differently and more successfully by new entrants, thereby reducing incumbents’ market share over time (ultimately overtaking them — sometimes irreversibly). The only solution for established companies to fend off disruption is either to buy up new entrants or to disrupt themselves first.

To disrupt a market, companies should employ one of two strategies, (if not both): court new customers in unserved markets and/or convert underserved customers in existing markets.

Business problems = customer problems

When you begin with the customer in mind and hyper-focus on solving their problems or meeting their desires, you’ll unearth considerations imperative to any business decision you face. Here are three common areas any organization can address immediately to achieve lasting results:

  • Organizational ITRBs (Information Technology Review Boards) should prioritize customer experiences as key components of their charters and mission statements.
  • Procurement organizations focus on reducing costs, mitigating risk and achieving sustainability, but need to work harder to deeply understand how to infuse these objectives with customer centricity when making technology purchasing decisions.
  • Hiring managers should consistently seek explicitly empathetic qualities in their candidates. The more people on your teams who can think outside of their boxes, the more your teams can serve as change agents towards customer focus across your organization.

Whether through external experience strategy consultants or internally appointed CX champions, each of these three areas can be more tangibly tackled by incorporating people tasked with holding the customer’s POV throughout all decision-making.

Executives can set the tone by incorporating regular discussion points around customer experience into agendas not typically thought of as relevant to CX. Challenging teams to start with a customer-focused “why” before jumping into solutions of “what” or “how” can ground teams in shared purpose and refocused definitions of success. Consider ways that you can identify and understand your key customers, incorporate customer experience prioritization into business decision making, and even how to pilot, test and track successful implementation of customer-focused initiatives. We’re here to help.

Published on 08.08.19