3 roadblocks to being customer-centric

Business success depends on every part of your organization putting customers first. IT leaders, here's how to avoid these common pitfalls on the road to a customer-centric culture 
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Is your organization truly customer-centric?

Focusing on customers’ needs makes good business sense – after all, customer-centric companies are more profitable and grow revenue faster than customer experience (CX) laggards.

But in reality, most companies fall short in delivering products and experiences that meet (let alone exceed) their customers’ expectations. In fact, only 25 percent of CIOs say CX is a top priority, according to research from IDG. Yet doing business digitally makes it easier than ever for buyers to take their purchasing elsewhere. The bottom line: CX must be integral to every CIO’s business objectives.

[ For more on this topic, read Meg Foley's related article: 3 ways to develop more empathy for customers. ]

Developing customer-centricity requires many companies to rethink how they approach their business: Rather than seeing service flow as a straight line from their business to their customers, service delivery must be at the core. Every department and individual needs to understand their role in the CX — no matter their distance from the end-user. Ensure everything, from business modeling to revenue growth strategy, centers on the customer.

Putting customers first: 3 pitfalls and solutions

As a senior technology leader, you’re responsible for ensuring all those involved in product development are taking a customer-centric approach. To successfully build products that customers will love, be mindful of the following common pitfalls — and how to avoid them — when mapping product development:

1. Siloed insights and lack of alignment

Customer-facing departments have qualitative and quantitative insights into customer expectations and pain points.

Marketing, sales, and customer success often operate with little to no overlap with engineering teams. But customer-facing departments have qualitative and quantitative insights into customer expectations and pain points that prove useful to product development.

To avoid siloed insights that create a lack of alignment, encourage the following practices:

Share data: Companies that don’t share CX metrics with all employees prevent teams from working — and growing — together. Integrated platforms (such as a CRM solution) that collect, consolidate, and share customer feedback across the organization are critical to achieving customer-centricity.

Collaborate: Customer teams should collaborate regularly with product teams. Require regular touch bases between marketers and engineers. This could be a required step in product development or monthly knowledge-sharing sessions.

Marketing and sales benefit from the perspectives of engineers as well since product teams intimately know the ins and outs of the solution. Content that highlights what makes the product unique is integral to creating buzz that will excite the marketplace.

2. A solely task-oriented team

Ensure your teams are service-oriented rather than task-driven. Looming deadlines and pressure from management make it easy to focus on checking tasks off to-do lists. But this mindset stifles innovation. Remember, the goal isn’t to complete the product quickly, it’s to complete a product that satisfies the customer.

To prioritize the customer’s needs above merely getting tasks done, consider the following changes to your team’s culture:

Spark new ways of thinking: It’s important to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking. Encourage employees to attend industry conferences, especially those with an innovation theme. Leverage third-party analyst reports and the media to catch up on the latest trends and emerging capabilities.

Create key performance indicators: As a technical leader, ensure you have KPIs related to the customer experience, such as “improve customer satisfaction by X percent each product enhancement release.” Be sure to set measurable customer-centric KPIs and goals for each step of your product roadmap. Encourage other business units to create their own KPIs related to CX.

An unwillingness to evolve is the most common and dangerous trap leaders fall into.

Plan the changes: Revisit how your team operates and change what’s holding you back from being customer-centric. Regularly evaluate processes, resources, KPIs, design philosophy, and culture. An agile delivery process is more efficient for collaboration than a traditional waterfall delivery process and could improve your CX. When hiring, consider your teams’ strengths and weaknesses to close any gaps.

You may make mistakes. But an unwillingness to evolve is the most common and dangerous trap leaders fall into.

3. Failure to meet evolving expectations

Achieving customer-centricity is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Both customer needs and technologies evolve at lightning speed. Companies that don’t meet changing expectations will lose customers to competitors who can and risk becoming irrelevant.

Adopt the following best practices to encourage a forward-thinking mindset that welcomes evolving expectations — rather than shrinks away from them:

Be empathetic and curious: Whether building a new product from scratch or planning feature enhancements, get feedback from customers. Try to understand the “why” behind the problem they’re encountering. Then build out full user stories and buyer personas. Encourage your team to be inquisitive about what’s changed since they last completed this exercise.

Embrace new ways of business: Digital, and mobile specifically, is the primary way consumers interact with brands — even in the B2B space. Businesses who resist new ways of doing business, such as the shift from desktop-first to mobile-first, simply won’t cut it anymore. Stay on top of new technology trends that are popular with your key demographics and consider how to incorporate them into your products.

When customers benefit, so do you

Companies that fail to deliver customer-centered products — and a great CX — will lose loyalty and revenue to competitors who can. As a senior technology leader, you must advocate for the user, keep a pulse on their needs, and work with other leaders to encourage alignment and collaboration across the entire organization.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Stanley Huang is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Moxtra, and a veteran and pioneer of the collaboration industry. A seasoned architect of full tech stack coverage for cloud service and software development, Huang is a named inventor on more than 10 issued and pending patents.

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