How Becoming a Customer-Centric Business Starts with Humanising Data

By Mike Billingsley, CEO of OnePulse

“The customer is always right” is a well worn mantra – because it works.

While it’s probably difficult to imagine in today’s world –  where anyone can whip up a business-destroying Twitter storm in seconds – listening to customers hasn’t always been the default.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, many advertisers would talk down to their customers, but renowned Advertising Executive, David Ogilvy, changed the game by simply saying customers should be treated intelligently.

Ogilvy’s idea was heavily influenced by the success he saw from retailers Harry Gorden Selfridge (Selfridges), John Wanamaker (Wanamaker Department Store) and Marshall Field (Marshall Field Department Store) in the early 1900s. These three men embraced the notion “The customer is always right,” accrediting their business success to their dedication to customer satisfaction and happiness.

A customer might not be right in every situation, but their employees were instructed to focus on solving problems quickly instead of questioning complaints.

Selfridge, Wanamaker and Field also understood the potential power of the customer when it comes to reputation. Great customer service experiences are few and far between. Therefore, when you have a good experience, you’ll be more likely to tell people about it.

Three retail visionaries, each united in their understanding of the power of the consumer and each with a live environment where they could witness consumer behaviour – gathering human data – and put their consumer-centric ethos in action.

What does “customer-centric” mean?

But being customer-centric goes beyond offering a good product or service. It’s about having customers at the center of your business’ philosophy, operations, or ideas.

And who better than your consumers – or indeed the people you want to be your consumers – to help you innovate your business?

Perhaps surprisingly, having consumers as part of a brand’s decision-making process is a relatively new concept even though companies who are customer-centric often disrupt their industries and are rewarded for their innovation. According to Forrester, brands with superior customer experience (CX) bring in 5.7 times more revenue than their competitors.

This isn’t too surprising. After all, would you want to do business with a company that treats you poorly? Positive interactions build brand loyalty.

For example, direct-to-consumer retailers Warby Parker and Casper both offer a “try-it-before-you-buy-it” option. Warby Parker customers can receive five different glasses frames in the mail, while Casper allows customers to schedule a “sleep-test” before purchasing one of their mattresses. Unsurprisingly, these brands have seen record-breaking growth and are considered industry disruptors.

With so many customers making decisions based on CX alone, investing in this side of your business is no longer a nice-to-have. In fact, more than two-thirds of companies now compete primarily on the basis of customer experience – up 36% from 2010.

Companies know improving their customer experience is a huge task to take on, and often won’t even bother simply because they don’t know where to start. But more often than not, it all starts by gathering insights from consumers.

Customer centricity begins during the data collection phase

There is a reason why investing in CX initiatives isn’t a priority for all companies. Costs can add up.

The slow and expensive process of traditional research is off-putting, which is why so many companies go the DIY route and gather insights themselves. Yes, this means surveys. With this type of research approach, businesses have a lot more control.

When collecting information and insights from consumers, the first thing you need to remember is that they are human. Consumers have busy lives. If they are being asked to complete a survey, there needs to be something different or exciting about it.

Surveys are everywhere. From fixing your car to calling your mobile phone provider, picking up groceries or even watching a YouTube video, it feels inescapable.

But that’s part of the problem. Insights are gathered in a robotic way instead of considering how people are actually living their lives. The survey experience needs to be short, fun and conversational.

You should never assume consumers know what you are talking about. The language you use in your questions should be jargon-free. Look at your best-performing social media and marketing content and use it as a guiding light for your tone.

Surveys should also be bite-sized at around 1-3 questions. These short “micro” surveys are particularly effective and can result in average completion rates of 83.34%.

Finally, no one wants to fill out a survey that’s boring. When people enjoy what they are doing, they are more likely to participate in the way you want them to. Survey tools are starting to adapt gamification elements, like leaderboards, points, and financial rewards, to boost engagement.

You’ve got data now. What’s next?

Analyze the insights you’ve gathered and then create an action plan. Don’t wait on it, otherwise, the data you collect can end up out of date.

Next, tell employees why you are making changes to your customer experience. Share the data you gathered so they know where it comes from and it’s not a snap decision. This is a great way to organically help you create a culture of customer satisfaction and happiness.

At the end of the day, consumers want to know you take their opinions seriously. Don’t spend time on your high horse assuming you know better. Become the customer-centric business you’re meant to be by developing an effective feedback loop and sticking to it.

Mike Billingsley is the Group CEO of OnePulse. For the past 15 years, while much of the market research industry has focused on dated methods, Mike has helped brands capture insights from consumers using innovative technologies while always focusing on a positive consumer experience. An early pioneer in digital survey data collection, Mike is part of a team that owns a patent on screening and survey data collection. Before joining OnePulse, he led global teams at AOL, Dynata, and Toluna while also launching the research consultancy Interloq. Born and raised Texan, Mike lives in Austin, Texas.

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