Customer centricity has become the vegetables of marketing.

Everyone knows they should be doing more of it, and they say so, but they just aren't getting their proper daily dose.

To that point, 43 percent of businesses surveyed in a recent research project conducted by the Harvard Business Review Analytics Service plan to have a customer centricity program in place within a year. Another 31 percent said they would implement one within two years.

Getting It Done vs. Done Right

Within these organizations, though, where there is a will, there might not be a way. Respondents shared a lack of confidence in their organizations' ability to articulate a customer centric vision and strategy, then to carry through with it in operations with training, goal setting and measurement.

The reason marketers ought to even worry about customer centricity is to increase their customers's loyalty, to double-down on the concept of lifetime customer value. Customer centricity is emerging as the way to impress and retain your best customers.

Only 62 percent of organizations planning to implement customer centricity, for instance, said they're communicating a clear vision well.

Only 39 percent of this group said they're communicating the urgency of the initiative well.

When it comes to aligning strategy, only 46 percent of these organizations are faring well, according to their respondents.

The numbers are as low or lower for respondents who feel their organizations are developing necessary skills in their organizations (40 percent), defining a timeline (39 percent), and communicating success metrics (38 percent).

Unfulfilled Potential

For organizations that are currently implementing customer centricity, the numbers aren't much better.

It's a shame because, when done well, customer centricity promises to help organizations master the essential 21st century business necessity: providing a differentiating customer experience.

"The primary reason companies focus on customer centricity is to differentiate themselves through every interaction they have with customers," said Lior Arussy, president of the multinational customer experience management firm Strativity, which sponsored the HBR research, "Making Customer-Centric Strategies Take Hold."

"In a world where products and services can be copied at a rapid pace, the customer experience is the one way they can differentiate their organization, command premium price and extend customer relationship longevity," he continued.

A key to implementing customer centricity well is to connect it with financial return on investments, said Arussy.

Another way to think of it is the financial losses a company would face if they don't start segmenting their consumers, identifying top customers and creating a premium experience for them.

3 Important Steps

That brings us to the headline of this piece, and friendly advice that Arussy offers to companies that aren't customer centric but hope to become so. In three parts, he suggests:

  1. Identify how much it would cost in customer revenue and margins not to become customer-centric. Understand the financial driver that could justify the investment and the required change.
  2. Offer a bonus to employees for identifying communications or processes that are counterproductive to customer centricity. "That will give you the true story of what is happening right now within your organization and what needs immediate attention," Arussy said.
  3. Compel senior leadership to agree on what customer centricity is for your company -- in terms of not just a definition, but in terms of financial goals and level of priority.

Consider the Risks of Inaction

What's at stake if companies don't take a customer-centric approach? Arussy pointed to a couple of real-world examples.

In the first, for an undisclosed major cable company, customer centricity amounted to one campaign, which consisted of employee town halls and a customer satisfaction survey. That was it.

"Yet they failed to engage employees in a meaningful way, they failed to align measurements, they failed to restructure processes, they failed to assign a pleasing experience to the customer," Arussy said.

The result: three years after this "superficial" effort, in which they didn't address root causes of customer dissatisfaction and failed to place customers central to their operations, the cable company remains "the most hated company in the country."

In the second, for Procure, a cancer treatment center, we find a company that adopted a "total" customer-centric approach, one that took into account the "smallest details" of the patient experience. They designed the experience from scratch, with input from patients, and the result was an experience free from jargon, free from long wait times and full of empathy.

"While many healthcare organizations treat customer centricity as a training opportunity, the reality is that customer-centric strategy goes beyond the training and into the actual operation and actual measurement," Arussy said.

One way to measure success for Procure was customer reaction. Some customers went so far as to tattoo the company logo on their bodies.

"That is the ultimate achievement: when your customers come to you, unsolicited, to tell you how great you are," Arussy said.

Title image by Webvilla.