In the last 10 years, we’ve metamorphosed into a smartphone-obsessed, social-media-loving, digital-dependent society. Software vendors and marketers alike have tried to keep up — to digitally transform like their customers and, moreover, embrace more customer driven strategies.

But they’re not there yet — according to analysts including Brian Solis

"When it comes to digital transformation, we're just not as far along as we think we are," Solis, principal analyst at San Francisco-based Altimeter, a Prophet company, told CMSWire. "There's very little digital maturity."

Positive customer experience (CX) — the cornerstone of the so-called Age of the Customer — is more aspirational than actual, he said — and CX is still "more about words than actions," he concluded.

Defining Customer Centricity

The Chicago-based American Marketing Association (AMA) said customer centricity "is sometimes used as a catchall term for talking about customer feedback or customer satisfaction results, but making people happy is only one part of the equation. To have sustained success, companies must understand current customer needs and wants, and ensure that there are the right internal and customer-facing strategies, processes and marketing initiatives to satisfy them."

A company must understand its customers’ behaviors and attitudes and have the internal processes in place to create a cultural change within the organization, the AMA said.

Fair enough. So how are companies actually doing? We asked a vendor, two analysts and a practitioner at the recent Hippo.Connect in Boston, a user conference sponsored by Amsterdam-based Hippo, a provider of an open source web content management.

The Question

Is customer centricity more aspirational than actual?

The Answers

Cathy McKnight, VP, Consulting, Digital Clarity Group

cathy mcknight

Cathy McKnight is vice president of consulting for New York City-based Digital Clarity Group (DCG), where she helps companies do more with technology. With more than 15 years of global experience and expertise in content management, intranets, marketing technologies and customer experience, she has led both strategic business transformation initiatives, as well as the execution of enterprise technology implementations. You can hear McKnight at CMSWire's DX Summit this Nov. 14 to 16 in Chicago. Tweet to Cathy McKnight

I totally think it’s still aspirational. We’ve been working with clients since we’ve started the inception of DCG. They all love the idea and there’s the nodding of the heads. 

But one thing that’s missing is they’re still not connecting the pieces internally. Marketing is still seen as the group that owns the customer. And it doesn't. It’s got to be a company-wide endeavor. 

Everyone has to ask, "How does this affect the customer?" — whether it’s research and development, administration, operations, senior management ... it doesn’t matter. They have to put the customer at the center of everything they do. And they just haven’t taken that step yet. 

I think they’re getting better. 

Companies are slowly taking that step forward saying, “OK, you’re right: it can’t just be marketing.” They’re taking a step forward, too, in that they’re looking at marketing as an overall function that needs to work seamlessly together as opposed to digital marketing, social marketing, traditional marketing and advertising because they’ve got to tie all those pieces together. 

Robert Rose, Chief Content Adviser, Content Marketing Institute

robert rose

As the chief content adviser for the Cleveland, Ohio-based Content Marketing Institute, Rose innovates creative and technical content marketing strategies for his clients. Rose has more than 15 years of experience helping brands and businesses develop web and content marketing strategies. He just recently released "Experiences: The 7th Era Of Marketing" with co-author Carla Johnson. Tweet to Robert Rose

For most organizations, customer centricity is one of the things that is still an aspirational goal. Now there are a lot of companies that are fooling themselves into thinking they’re customer centric when they’re really not. 

One of the things I’ll often do is talk to an enterprise, and I’ll say, “What is your content marketing strategy?” And someone will say, “Well, we need our customers to understand that we’re innovative” or that “We need our customers to understand that we’re thought leaders.” 

And I’ll say, “Well, guess what? They don’t. They don’t need to know that you’re thought-leaders, and they don’t need to know that you’re innovative. They don’t need any of those things.” 

Calling yourself innovative or calling yourself a thought leader — that’s not being innovative. It is not being customer centric. Delivering on what your customers need is being customer-centric. I’m a big fan of the “jobs to be done” framework, and that to me is really looking to be customer centric.

Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer, CMO, Co-Founder, Hippo

tjeerd brenninkmeijer

Under Brenninkmeijer’s leadership, Hippo has grown from an organization of three in 1999 to a company with offices in Amsterdam, Oldenburg, London and Boston. He is a frequent contributor to industry publications like CMSWire and a speaker at industry events. He shares his 17 years of business experience with the tech community as a startup bootcamp mentor. Tweet to Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer.

Many businesses understand the potential of customer centricity, but haven’t adopted the agile methodologies and processes to implement it deep enough to bring value. Only those companies that adopt short, fast iteration cycles based on validated learning will get closer to the promise of customer-centricity. 

The road to a fully mature customer-centric strategy isn’t a short one. But we are now seeing organizations take the first steps by creating digital environments that actually track data across all touchpoints and by building a network of channels with the understanding that each channel needs to be flexible to the customer journey while keeping the overall experience consistent.

The technology is ready to help businesses gather data and utilize machine learning to drive customer-centricity, but many organizations are have just begun to learn how to wield such a mighty sword.

Jason Swafford, VP, Software Development, Cengage Learning

jason swafford

Swafford has helped Boston-based Cengage Learning transition from an analog, archived database business to the digital world. He has also held a director of technology role for Cengage Learning after serving as an agile transformation lead at Compuware, where he began in 2000. Connect with Jason Swafford on LinkedIn.

The customer versus user is a bit of an interesting dynamic for us. Our customers are librarians and our users are students. So there’s this tug of war between what the buyer thinks they want and what the students feel they need. 

So we build personas that are primary, secondary and tertiary and we test those personas. We do our best to start all of our highest-priority stories with the primary personas in mind. And everything falls off from there. 

It’s kinda cliche to say you’re user-centric but at the same time we test every story with, “Does this need match what the primary user wants?” 

Title image by Asa Aarons Smith