Marketers and company leadership teams often talk about ‘putting the customer at the centre of the business’ or about ‘being data-driven’ – but in truth this still isn’t happening often enough.
Over many decades, businesses were optimised to make money and cut costs. Processes were designed to suit the company, not the customer. Data was a by-product of technology and business, and not a priority in itself.
In that world, the customer was kept at arm’s length, which is why their experiences were often disjointed, frustrating and far from satisfying. Consumers often put up with poor service, and broken systems, hoping they didn’t need to call (and queue) to speak to customer services, return an item, or get help with something.
In 2020, data is the lifeblood of the world we live in, driven by smartphone-wielding consumers and businesses trying to compete in a 24-7 always-on world. This means that organisational data is no longer a cumbersome side-effect of business process, but is now starting to drive the process and the business itself.
The data I’m talking about is generated by customers, for the benefit of customers, and specifically relates to their experience as they consume products and services. Consider offerings like Uber, Deliveroo, Airbnb, Strava – they are all data driven services born and made possible by a digital world. Data is an intrinsic element and is the breakthrough difference enabling these products and service offerings in a way that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
Interestingly, the more closely the customer is placed at the centre of these businesses and how they operate, the more disruptive and transformational these organisations become in the market.
Having experienced the near frictionless process of doing business with these new and exciting brands, consumers are finally demanding that they are put at the very centre of the modern business, for the benefit of everyone.
So, what does this mean for traditional organisations drowning in data and fearful of disruption, but not yet able to make themselves customer-centric at the core?
Putting the customer at the heart of the business is only feasible if a company’s processes and structures are rebuilt to support this model. It’s why disruptors are often spin-offs of traditional companies, where the new offering is built from scratch – around data and user experience. The days of disparate data sets scattered around organisations, driving unsatisfactory customer experiences, has to become a thing of the past very quickly. Consumers demand it, and are voting with their feet.
Look at the array of new digital-only banks, born in the cloud and without a single physical branch or cash machine between them. They win with customers because of the delightfully simplistic and powerful banking experience they offer. Open an account in a few clicks, bank in seconds, do everything in the app, 24/7. The reason these players are disruptive is because they don’t have to deal with legacy, but have spun up their product from scratch, built around the customer, all the required organisational data is at the core, and nothing else gets in the way.
Finally, what does putting the customer and data at the centre of business mean?
The Chief Marketing Officer is often the rightful owner of the customer experience at board level. If that customer experience is inherent in the business and its processes, isn’t it time that customer-driven leaders run companies? I’m not sure what the stats are on how many people with marketing talent go on to become CEOs of businesses, but maybe the new breed of disruptive CEOs are better marketers than we give them credit for, and maybe marketing as a discipline can change the business world in ways inconceivable a few short years ago.
One thing is for sure, failing to put customers (and data) at the centre of business is becoming the short path to irrelevance, in a world where customers have real power and demand better, faster, easier experiences.
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