Companies such as GE Appliances have benefited by letting customer opinion and feedback assume a greater role in their research and design decisions. That approach has been most apparent in the success of the GE FirstBuild platform, for instance, where new product ideas are crowdsourced from a deeply-engaged online community.
This shift in thinking began before GE Appliances was acquired by Chinese company Haier in 2016, Mr Hasselbeck explains, but is very much in step with the new parent company’s own “Zero Distance” strategy, which also calls on employees to prioritise internal actions and decisions according to customer needs.
“We’re thinking deeper and harder about the ownership experience than ever before,” says Mr Hasselbeck. “For us, the boss isn’t somebody on the inside of our organisation. It’s the person who makes a significant investment when they buy an appliance from us, who disrupts their own home to accommodate that appliance, and who wants it to provide them with good service for years to come.”
According to Haier’s annual report for 2018, GE Appliances increased its market share by 3 percentage points during the year, despite a general downturn in the US household appliances market, which executives at the parent company attribute to effective replication of its customer-first philosophy at GE Appliances since the acquisition.
Despite the effort and resources involved in achieving greater customer-centricity, respondents expect the rewards to be worth it. When asked about the biggest benefits, the top answer is a better alignment of resources with customer expectations, cited by almost one in three (32%) of respondents, implying greater efficiencies and “product/market fit”. Companies are looking to better orchestrate the design, marketing and selling of products and services around what customers tell them they want and need.
But respondents recognise a number of financial benefits, too: increased market share and competitiveness (30%), increased customer lifetime value (29%) and greater profits (23%).
The challenge for business in seizing such benefits is not in an absence of buy-in from senior leadership or, it seems, in uncertainty over what action to take. Primarily, executives surveyed cite the pace of change, and their organisations’ lack of resources to adapt accordingly, as the biggest barriers to a more customer-centric model (see chart).