Building a Customer Centric Strategy of the Future, Today

By Michelle Janke

Over the last decade, developing a customer centric strategy has dramatically evolved. From its roots in the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement to Lean Six Sigma, focusing on the customer has improved productivity and enabled companies to become more nimble.

Now with rapid technological changes, social media and the digital economy, companies have developed an intimate relationship with the customer allowing them to follow their every move – from browsing history to social media posts to purchasing behavior. This trend is anticipated to intensify. According to McKinsey & Company’s recent research, two of the most disruptive trends over the next five years will be “Digital Intimacy” through social media and shifts toward “E-commerce Giants,” such as Amazon.com. [1] Additionally, consumer needs and desires are emerging more rapidly and trend lifecycles accelerating. “It took more than 50 years after the telephone was invented until half of American homes had one….but Facebook attracted six million users in its first year and that number multiplied over 100 times over the next five years.”[2]

This rapid innovation has led to rapid shifts in what consumers want.  Given these dramatic changes for the consumer, how will companies need to shift their approach to a modern customer centric strategy?

We sat down with Gail Galuppo, marketing strategist and former CMO at Aflac, Kindercare Education and Western Union, to understand how she sees companies changing their approach to strategy development to adapt to these customer centric trends.  She identified five main practices that great companies excel at when developing their strategies:

  • Discern between internal needs and customer needs: “Too often, I’ve found at many large companies, so many decisions are made based on internal needs,” Galuppo shared. “I think people don’t put the consumer at the center because often they don’t understand who the customer is. If you have too many constituent groups who are vying for attention, you lose your focus. In the old days, through Deming [management system] and others, we talked about everyone as a customer. But there’s a difference between the customer and internal business partners. Companies need to have laser focus on those who are paying for the services or goods. And that’s the customer.”
  • Don’t throw out traditional data gathering: Galuppo isn’t an advocate of moving away from traditional research completely, and instead advocates for a mix of methods. “Start with the basics, like qualitative and verify with quantitative research. Then blend in behavioral data, such as purchasing patterns and customer journey mapping. Not enough people are doing this.”
  • Learn from digital customer data (it’s already out there!): Galuppo contends that best-in-class companies are adept at using digital data to learn and innovate. “Every click on your website is captured and measured. You know who is on your website. The power of all of that data is pretty incredible. It can drive us to a very personalized world.  The reason we’re not there yet is that companies don’t have the capabilities, or they don’t understand the power.” She extends that need to capture and mine data to social media as well. “With all of the content and information on the web, understanding the sentiment around your brand through social media is critical. Great companies are able to bring that into the mix for decision making.”
  • Make customer listening a core competency: Galuppo observed that market leaders are constantly listening to their customer, as well as prospective customers, to understand what’s on their minds. “Great companies are collecting the voice of the customer at every touchpoint. Even your call center is important. Some companies don’t even store or mine that data, and it’s critical. Every time you have an interaction with a customer, find a way to harness that data and learn from it.”
  • It’s a win-win solution putting the consumer first: Instead of making everyone in the organization a customer of sorts, Galuppo emphasized the importance of being intimately, consumer-centric. As an example, while she was CMO at Aflac, instead of asking agents what insurance policies they wanted to sell, they reached out to patients with cancer and the nurses and doctors who cared for them. Based on their research, they created a unique, patented cancer care product meeting the critical needs of the consumer. Not only did the company develop a profitable product for their business, it has also been a safety net to their consumers, saving them resources and giving them peace of mind.

On a final note, Galuppo shared that executives involved in strategy development need to make a practice of being curious about trends in other industries. “They need to understand what’s happening in other industries, follow trends and find ways to use that insight to drive better results and connect with their consumers.”

Given the speed of change, consumer-focused companies can’t afford to miss a beat in listening to their customer’s voice, capturing and understanding their needs and ensuring they are at the heart of the strategy development process. As you think about shifting the mindset of your company to be a more customer centric organization, consider how these practices can help move you in that direction.

Blog post developed in collaboration with: Linda Favero

[1]McKinsey & Co., “The new model for consumer goods”, April 2018.  Two additional trends cited as “highly disruptive” over the next five years were the “Better for You” and “Mass-merchant squeeze” trends. [2]McKinsey & Co., “The four global forces breaking all trends,” April 2015.