True customer-centricity is being hampered by over complicated internal structures

I was lucky enough to chair the second day of a conference on customer experience last month and some big themes emerged. Many companies talked about their desire to have the customer at the heart of all that they do but few, it seemed, were following through with the promise.

Companies seem to fall into the trap of doing the bare minimum when it comes to working with their own customers – everything from customer research, which many admitted felt like a tick box exercise, to insight development, and taking those insights and co-creating products, services, applications or experiences. Many talked about how great companies such as Lego are in this space, as detailed in Marketing Week’s recent interview with Conny Kalcher, VP of marketing at the toy maker.

In part, much of the problem is how complicated the product development lifecycle is and how many stakeholders need to sign-off on anything new that goes out the door. I have heard about the business case committee, the operating committee, and the executive committee – the list is seemingly endless with each area having an opinion that is often uninformed.

Unfortunately, the only opinion that really matters is that of the customer who is often forgotten – working with them to develop new products, listening to feedback in the trials, refining and then rolling-out at pace is the only formula that really works – think Uber and King of Shaves.

Talking to many of the delegates at the conference, the consistent feedback was that the respective product development manager was so exhausted with the internal workings of their company that the thought of changing the product regularly based on customer feedback was a step too far.

O2 are not whiter than white here but have recently introduced a programme called ‘The Customer Centred Design’, which is a tool for the development of any application, product, proposition or experience. It has, at its heart, a simple question: ‘Would you as a customer use this?‘ This programme is a way for us to reduce the number of own goals we have scored, saving us money, manpower, customer effort and driving a better commercial return.

The process follows a standard User Experience model falling into five stages:

  • Concept, idea and vision
  • Crystalisation
  • Prove and learn
  • Build
  • Launch

Based on the importance of the project, a user experience expert will be assigned to the product development on a part time or full time basis. Customer insights are developed, personas created and customer trials deployed – we also reach out to our own people who will be selling the product.

We even have a new word in our vocabulary that we stole with pride from Google, ‘preto-typing’, which we will be testing going forwards. It means allowing first hand feedback on a concept based on nothing more than some advertising in a channel – the product doesn’t physically exist and when the customer asks for it in a live environment, the request is recorded and the customer is told that the product is out of stock but we will let them personally know when it is available – invaluable information.

Having the customer at the heart of all that you do is a bold and noble claim. From my experience, very few actually deliver against this desire. The endless sign-offs internally need to be balanced with having the conversation with your key customer segments and asking them the most important question: “If we marketed this to you, would you use it and (maybe even) pay for it?”. Forget the customer at your peril.