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The Importance of Being Customer-Centric

As a result of these new targeting possibilities and the ever-increasing amount of marketing messages to which each individual is exposed, buyers' expectations are rising. It has become harder than ever for companies to earn audience trust. Customers want to feel as if they are the ones who decide how and when a sales cycle begins. And when it does begin, they expect personalized interactions tailored to their specific needs. The days of "spray and pray" generic sales pitches and marketing messages are over.

Before an email campaign drop or sales call, marketers and sales have to do their homework and truly become customer-centric in their approach, taking into account the prospect's industry, geography, company, role, and circumstances. Moreover, customers expect this level of personalized service across every interaction with your organization, from your Web site and emails, to the salesperson, to customer service.

Yet the customers of today not only expect a personalized experience, but also demand opportunities to engage, collaborate, and have a say in the products and services they consume. They expect to be heard, and they expect a response. Companies have always claimed to be customer-centric (or put another way, no company would say that it is not customer-centric), but too often in the past it was just lip service. Companies were drawn to the concept of being customer-centric, but when it came to implementation, no budget, metrics, or ownership existed. In the worst case, customer-centricity was abused as an excuse to further internal political agendas that actually had nothing to do with what customers wanted.

Things have changed. By giving customers a voice, social media is forcing companies to actually become customer-centric. Companies are being forced not only to listen to customers, but also to act and react based on what they say. To succeed, today's companies have to invest in rearchitecting their systems and processes around the customer. Internal agendas have to take a backseat to the customer experience.

The social Web is changing companies' interactions with their customers in four ways:

  1. Consistent experience—Customers don't know or care about your organization's functional divides. They view your company as a single entity and expect to have a seamless and consistent experience whether they are dealing with your sales department or your customer support staff. For companies, this means much better coordination across departments, messaging alignment, and integrated systems.
  2. Ongoing feedback—In the past, companies periodically held focus groups and surveys to collect customer feedback. Companies decided when to request feedback and what questions were asked. Today feedback is continuous, public, and on the customers' terms. Companies need to put in place new processes to listen on an ongoing basis and to come to terms with negative comments.
  3. Action and response—Before, companies could do whatever they wanted with customer feedback and no one would know. Often they did nothing. In contrast, the public nature of the social Web pressures companies not only to respond, but also to respond quickly.
  4. Measurement and accountability—External transparency has seemed to bring internal accountability. With the customer voice and companies' responses out in the open, a growing number of businesses are realizing the importance of ownership and accountability for listening, responding to, and measuring customer feedback.

Perhaps the biggest underlying change is reorienting organizational culture around customer- centricity. Chapter 15, "Corporate Governance, Strategy, and Implementation," talks about the practicalities and challenges behind culture change and other aspects of corporate governance and implementation.

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