Modern customers have it good. Spoilt for choice and convenience, today’s empowered consumers have come to expect more from the businesses they interact with. This doesn’t just apply to their wanting a quality product at a fair price, but also tailored goods, swift and effective customer service across different channels, and a connected experience across their online shopping and in-store experience, with easy access to information they need when they want it.
Meeting these expectations is a significant challenge for organisations. For many, it requires restructuring long-standing operating models, re-engineering business processes and adopting a fundamental shift in mindset to put customer experience at the heart of business decision-making.
Despite the challenges involved, most senior executives recognise that becoming more customer-centric is a modern business imperative. And it is one that businesses across diverse industries—from retailers to consumer electricity providers—are seriously investing in, as shown in this Economist Intelligence Unit report, sponsored by Salesforce.
This research is based on a global survey of 550 senior business executives at companies across eight industries. Its aim is to explore how businesses around the world are tackling the challenge of reorganising their operations around the customer as expectations grow.
Key findings include:
Survey respondents overwhelmingly agree that their business has been impacted in the past five years by a greater need for customer-centricity. More than eight in ten (81%) describe this impact as at least “moderate”. Half (49%) describe it as “significant”. This sentiment is strongest among North American respondents.
Becoming more customer-centric demands time, effort and investment—and will continue to do so. Three-quarters (75%) agree that their organisation will need to make significant changes to keep up with customer expectations. Such transformation requires not just unifying disparate departments, infrastructure, sources of data and functional silos, but experimenting with new forms of customer engagement and incorporating customer opinions and feedback into decision-making.
Executives expect a range of rewards from the pursuit of greater customer-centricity. The most highly recognised benefits include better alignment of company resources with customer expectations (identified as a top-two benefit by 32% of respondents), increased market share and competitiveness (30%), increased customer lifetime value (29%), and even greater profits (23%).
A significant number of organisations are putting customer feedback and opinions at the heart of decision-making in many areas of the business. Product design and innovation is the area of decision-making where customer input is most likely to be fully integrated (40% of respondents say that this is the case at their organisation), but customer sentiment is also increasingly integrated into firms’ decision-making on marketing and sales priorities, values and corporate social responsibility, and technology investment priorities.
Significant barriers stand in the way of optimising the business model for greater customer-centricity. Though the survey suggests strong support from senior leadership, firms are put off by internal budgetary and financial constraints, as well as ever-changing consumer preferences that can make it hard to know where to direct resources. Research findings suggest that better alignment of company resources with customer expectations could help with the former, while deeper insight into customer behaviour and preferences with the latter.
The stakes are high, as most see customer-centricity as vital to future competitiveness. Respondents overwhelmingly agree that businesses that do not include customers in innovation processes—not just frontline customer service—will fall behind. Half of the executives surveyed strongly agree that this is the case.
Technological leaders tend to be customer-centric leaders, too. The survey shows a strong correlation between how well an organisation believes it has adapted to various recent technology trends and its preparedness for customer-centricity.