Insight: The rise of 'customer obsession' in business strategy

Hazjier Pourkhalkhali
- Leadership - Jun 08, 2018

By Hazjier Pourkhalkhali, Global Head of Strategy, Optimizely.

"The customer is always right" is one of the most overused, and often despised expressions in business.

The bane of any customer facing employee throughout the world has held itself in the job role lexicon for generations, despite the fact sometimes, the customer is wrong.

While it is outdated to operate under the philosophy that every complaint a customer may have should be upheld by divine authority, there is some wisdom we can glean from this expression. The foundation of this expression lies in ensuring that the customers’ requirements are upheld as a single point of truth within product delivery. By embracing this approach through every aspect of the business, from product development all the way through to customer service, organisations can fully realise the benefits of placing the customer’s needs at the centre of their culture. Forrester recently highlighted the importance of this approach and how a culture of customer obsession underpins some of the most rapidly developing and influential organisations in the world.

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As a result, this mantra has become increasingly common among businesses of all sizes, however how many businesses truly understand what their customers want? There is often a gap between feedback, strategy and action. Customer obsession goes above and beyond simply investing in call centre staff or mailing vouchers to loyal consumers. To truly evolve and become customer-led instead of customer-aware, businesses have to measure what customers are thinking and how they are acting, on a daily basis. They must then turn this insight into action.

The Obsession Ecosystem
Achieving customer obsession demands an organisational shift in the way that the business is structured and begins with empowering the employees on the front line. The staff who are serving customers are the ones who can identify the challenges, and will often be able to identify solutions that are alien to those in positions of power. Empowering these employees is the first step to ensuring customer-centricity runs through the organisation from top to bottom.

Businesses are opening themselves up to new, valuable pools of data through this process, which enable businesses to become led by insights, rather than guesswork. To maximise the effectiveness of this data, businesses need to put themselves in the best position to act autonomously. Implementing an infrastructure which supports flexible actions in the face of key insights can be a huge challenge for organisations with a rigid structure. Whether the core changes that need to happen are technological, cultural or both, the only way to successfully implement this model is from the top down.

Insight into Action
In large scale enterprise businesses, constrictive legacy structures are regularly responsible for halting organisational progress. This is why it is vital that senior decision makers buy in to the benefits of the customer obsession. There are a great number of success stories in snappy startups and enterprises alike, all overcoming different challenges, creating the necessary proof points to embrace this change. Uber has exemplified this philosophy in action through their obsessive pursuit of one customer problem: transportation. Through their simplification of the payment system, increased visibility over arrivals and departure times and an altogether streamlined experience. By valuing insights above all else, these organisations are in pole position to adapt and grow into the future, with a creative and experimental approach to every business function. Experimentation lies at the foundation of market disruptors, and has proved a powerful tool time and again. 

Embedding a culture of experimentation across the business will not only drive creativity and innovation - it is the only way that businesses can truly find a foolproof way of meeting and exceeding their customers’ expectations. Ultimately, this is the core differentiator which will enable companies to take the giant leap from simple customer awareness, to letting customer insights drive every facet of the organisation.

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