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Customer Experience

How To Create a Customer-Centric Experience

Create personalized and informed customer experiences across marketing, sales, and service that shoppers have come to expect.

two people with shopping bags and a retail associate in a brick-and-mortar shop
Being customer-centric means putting the customer at the heart of everything you do – from marketing, to sales, to customer service.

It’s not enough to just have a great product or service at a great price. Every interaction with your brand is an opportunity for a customer-centric experience that builds trust and long-term brand loyalty. In our “State of the Connected Customer” report, 85% of business buyers and 79% of consumers said that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. To stay competitive, smart businesses are taking note and making changes to provide exceptional customer experience. Ready to learn more?

What does it mean to be customer-centric?

Defining customer-centricity means providing amazing service before and after a transaction. It means offering greater personalization and more highly valued, connected experiences across all channels. Businesses and organizations, both large and small, need to put the customer at the heart of everything they do – from marketing, to sales, to customer service.

While the definition will vary between industries and individual companies, customer-centric businesses all have one thing in common — they obsess over a joyful and frictionless customer experience.

Why is customer-centricity important for brands?

Customer expectations can mean the difference between selling goods and services or not, and determines if a customer will return to your storefront again. Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report surveyed 15,000 global consumers and business buyers. We found that 92% of customers said that a positive customer service experience makes them more likely to make another purchase. And 71% said they’ve made purchase decisions based on customer service quality.

Simply providing service with a smile isn’t enough. Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said they expect brands to demonstrate empathy, but only 37% felt that they did so successfully. And, 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, yet few deliver. Customers felt that just 34% of companies – just one in three, roughly – generally treat customers as unique individuals.

The benefits and business value of being customer-centric

A customer-first mindset is not a new idea. However, the same technologies that change customer behavior – including mobile devices, social media, the cloud, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence (AI) – enable businesses and organizations to personalize interactions with customers in a whole new way.

“Personal doesn’t just mean upleveling a generic experience with a person’s name,” pointed out Mathew Sweezey, Salesforce’s principal of marketing insights. “Instead, it’s about dynamically creating a personal experience at each and every moment – from the first search that helps customers ideate their needs to their final purchase, and every moment of the journey in between.”

66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, yet few deliver. Customers felt that just 34% of companies – just one in three, roughly – generally treat customers as unique individuals.

For a customer that has established a relationship with a brand, this might mean receiving personalized recommendations based on their purchasing history as they scroll through a company’s website on the way home from work, then receiving a follow-up email the next day offering a discount.

Peter Schwartz, Salesforce chief futures officer, likens the process to a tailor modifying a garment’s design to fit each customer individually. In the pre-industrial world, he pointed out, a tailor came to know each customer – their build, the way they wanted to look, and the fabric they preferred. Mass production and the growth of mainstream retailing changed that.“Today, companies are once again shaping their selling experience to fit each customer individually,” Schwartz explained. “That means constantly modifying the standard product or service, like the tailors of a bygone era, but now companies add that type of craftsmanship at scale.”

A hotel group, for example, can use information guests provide to personalize their hotel stay at one property, and then anticipate their needs in advance of their next stay. Guests then have the benefit of their preferred pillow type waiting for them in their room, or information about local yoga classes ready upon arrival. An online retailer might show customers similar products that other browsers have viewed, as well as provide direct comparisons to those products. A fashion rental company canl correlate data gleaned from subscribers’ use of the service with information about their inventory. This data can help users pick their next rental outfit faster, with a greater likelihood that it will be a perfect fit.

What does a customer-centric organization look like?

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs knew the importance of customer-centricity when he said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology … Not start with ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have.’”

It’s a lesson that successful customer-centric companies have been implementing ever since.

The potential for businesses to rethink their business model is immense. Rob Garf, Salesforce vice president of Strategy and Insights and general manager, identifies retailing as an industry which has only just started to explore what’s possible.

Personal doesn’t just mean upleveling a generic experience with a person’s name. Instead, it’s about dynamically creating a personal experience at each and every moment – from the first search that helps customers ideate their needs to their final purchase, and every moment of the journey in between.

Mathew Sweezey, principal of marketing insights, SALESFORCE

“We’ve been talking about the importance of ‘customer centricity’ for some time but, until now, retailers have lacked both the technology and the mandate to connect marketing, sales, service, and commerce systems to enable a 360-degree view of the customer. Now that relevant and personalized engagement has emerged as a key differentiator, retailers will finally make the investments to deliver on the promise of putting the customer in the center of everything they do.”

Catharine Findiesen Hays, co-author of Beyond Advertising: Creating Value Through All Customer Touchpoints, singles out Amazon as a customer-centric organization. She feels that it’s emblematic of the move toward, and demand for, intuitive, wrap-around customer experiences made possible by customers volunteering information.

“By opting in with a subscription to Amazon Prime, members exchange their search, purchase, and repurchase behavior in return for customized recommendations and choices – a mutually beneficial digital service that’s also intuitive and frictionless,” she said. As data is fed into the system, Amazon learns more about an individual’s needs and can respond to them in real time. Thanks to experiences like this, customers subconsciously expect a similar level of personalization when they interact with other brands.

Glen Hartman, senior managing director of Accenture Interactive North America, believes the key to becoming a customer-centric organization is starting with empathy. Otherwise, he cautions, it’s easy to miss the point and end up alienating customers.

The point at which [Nike] started to really sell more shoes was when they turned their brand into a service that could help you track your running, compete with your friends, and just feel healthier.

Glen Hartman, senior managing director, Accenture Interactive North AmericA

Hartman cites Nike as an example of a customer-centric business that successfully delivers a more empathetic experience to win over customers.

“The point at which they started to really sell more shoes was when they turned their brand into a service that could help you track your running, compete with your friends, and just feel healthier,” he said. “For Nike, it isn’t just about selling shoes anymore; it’s about delivering on a brand promise in a way that’s more meaningful.”

Unite your team around a customer-centric business mindset

To be truly customer-centric, provide customers with a connected experience across your entire organization.

Salesforce’s “Trends in Integrated Customer Experiences” report found that 70% of customers said that connected experiences, such as seamless handoffs between departments and contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions, are very important to winning their business. Almost two-thirds (63%) of customers expect companies to recognize them wherever they engage. And around 70% said that salespeople’s knowledge of marketing campaigns they’ve seen is very important to them, as are past service interactions. Almost half (49%) have no patience for disconnected experiences.

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology … Not start with ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have.’

Steve Jobs, Founder, Apple

Put simply, “You must win at every interaction the customer has with your organization, whether that be a marketing campaign, a call to a contact center, an invoice, or a delivery reliant on the supply chain,” said Gartner Research Director Olive Huang. “Every department must play its part in a coordinated fashion.” (source: “Smarter With Gartner, “Is Your Organization Customer Centric?”, Laurence Goasduff, March 7, 2019)

With siloed data a major roadblock to connectivity within organizations, businesses must first look at how they can unlock data held in multiple, disconnected systems.

They also need to ensure that everyone within the organization has a single view of their customer and the role of customer experience. Encourage employees to think about customer experience in terms of what’s good for the customer (“Did we help them solve their problem?”) instead of what’s good for the business (“Did we make the sale?”). That’s how organizations take the first steps toward building a truly customer-centric culture.

Unfortunately, said Tiffani Bova, Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, “Employees often operate with a myopic, territorial view of customer experience.”

“When people say ‘customer experience should be owned by marketing,’ they don’t acknowledge that when a customer reaches out to talk to a brand, it’s usually to sales,” she said. “And then if there’s a problem, they reach out to service – not marketing.” It matters less who owns customer experience and more who implements it, and everyone in an organization – from the executive level down – should be implementing it.

“The disconnection between teams is the result of disconnected metrics and manifests in disconnected customer experiences,” Bova added.

She suggests measuring customer experience in relation to revenue and other organization-wide metrics to promote alignment. Leaders must also demonstrate a commitment to the long-term outcomes of customer experience – even if traditional performance indicators, such as sales, drop in the short term.

Steps toward a customer-centric future

“Just like consumers expect TV and movie recommendations from their streaming service of choice to be relevant and timely, the tailored experience is becoming a necessity for all customers regardless of the company they are engaging with. Companies that don’t get on board with this may not be around much longer,” said Patrick Stokes, executive vice president and general manager of Platform at Salesforce.

Place the customer at the heart of every interaction, and a customer-centric business can create a dynamic, seamless, and uniquely personalized experience that helps them achieve their desired outcome, and ultimately drives sales.

Now that relevant and personalized engagement has emerged as a key differentiator, retailers will finally make the investments to deliver on the promise of putting the customer in the center of everything they do.

Rob Garf, VP of Strategy, Salesforce

In the future, said Tiffani Bova, “Customer-driven organizations will completely reset value and meaningful experience with customers.”

Peter Schwartz anticipates businesses will be able to use AI to turn a “comprehensive trove of data into insights that can anticipate customers’ needs and act as their digital assistant.”

He uses the example of a frequent business traveler who walks into a hotel room to be greeted by her favorite music playing, photos of her family in digital frames, and an email in her inbox asking if she wants the Caesar salad, without croutons, she ordered from room service last time. The temperature and lighting are set to her preferred levels, and when she turns on the television, it suggests a movie she’s yet to see, starring her favorite actress. A rental car of the model she’s considering buying is available at the hotel.

“This isn’t marketing to a category of consumers,” Schwartz said. “It’s applying AI and all the customer data to cater to the needs of a single individual, which is much more powerful.”

Ultimately, predicted Stokes, “We’ll see more and more forward-looking brands deploy the right technologies, implement the right processes, and hire the right people to seamlessly connect all of their customer data, bringing about a fundamental shift for companies as they reorient from being product-centric to truly customer-centric.”

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