Here’s a fun weekend exercise. Round up 10 marketing executives and ask them if they consider themselves customer-driven. I would bet that nine out of 10 would say yes, and the other person would explain that they focus on other things which eventually benefit the customer.

The importance of the customer is so significant that most of the marketing buzzwords are about them — customer journey, customer experience (CX), customer insights, and so forth. Any marketing book is bound to include a chapter on why you should be obsessed with the customer.

However, who is validating all of this customer focus? Is it your team or your customers? It’s easy to think that you’re putting the customer first while making it harder for them to buy from your brand. Let’s look at what it really means to be customer-centric.

The reality of being a customer

It’s hard being a customer. Why do we keep coming across hurdles to purchase the products or services we want if we are so important? Think of the examples where buying was a frustrating experience.

You apply for a job by uploading your resume, and you’re then asked to enter the very same details on the next screen. You try to file an insurance claim, and suddenly, it’s impossible to get someone on the phone. Your flight is canceled due to COVID restrictions, but it takes two hours to reach customer service.

Recently, I was staying at a Hilton in Miami. I had a long day of traveling, and I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights for the life of me. Luckily, the Hilton sent me an SMS confirming everything was in order. I replied that I couldn’t find the light switch for the lights. They replied that they were unable to help me with this request. This idea was designed with great intention but poor execution.

Every day we face similar challenges when interacting with businesses. I imagine that every marketing team constantly talks about how important their customers are and then makes them go through unnecessary hoops. Would you put your mother through this kind of service?

Closing the reality gap

When working with marketing teams, I tell them they can close the reality gap by doing one simple thing. They should open their notebooks or laptops and get ready to take notes as the instructions are somewhat complex. Ask the customer.

I hear you! You’re already asking the customer, right? Apart from poor service, we are now bombarded with customer satisfaction surveys. The Hilton could not help me, and they also wanted me to fill out a survey to know how they did. Is anyone actually reading these survey responses?

Let’s dispense with vanity metrics like NPS. It’s interesting to know that someone is a promoter, but how does that improve the service? Marketing teams need tangible feedback. You can get that in three ways.

1. Shop the business as a regular customer

Airlines executives will book a first-class flight to see first-hand the “customer experience.” However, first-class is a different world than the economy. They should look at economy class and board last to see what most customers go through.

Marketing teams need to know what an “average” customer actually sees and not just focus on the 1% experience. Flying first class is amazing in any airline. Flying economy in some airlines feels like punishment. 

2. Quality over quantity in feedback

I worked with a company that would always call customers to get their feedback. Calling doesn’t scale, but you’re bound to learn more from a few calls than from reading thousands of surveys—if anyone reads them at all.

Technology has made it easier to get feedback, but teams don’t need quantity, they actionable insights. Designing experiences for real people is easier than creating them from random data points. 

Despite my expertise in data, I constantly tell teams that they need to look beyond the data points. Real people are hiding underneath all of their charts. Talk to them.

3. Get an outside perspective

Services like secret shoppers are beneficial because you can get unbiased feedback. You might overlook specific details because of your familiarity with your product or service. 

I recently used a self-checkout machine, and the grocer ran into critical issues because someone tried scanning an orange instead of typing in the number. The customer could shut down three out of the four machines with the same error. I can’t imagine scanning an orange is an obscure or unexpected customer action.

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Don’t forget the baby

One popular comedy trope is when parents “forget” their baby and drive off without them. I imagine this sketch resonates more with non-parents than people who have encountered something similar. 

In customer experiences, you need to avoid “forgetting the baby,” aka the customer. It’s easy to get caught up in what you could do and forget if the customer even cares about it. It’s nice to develop an app with all the bells and whistles but do the customers even need it?

Costco’s fast-food menu is an excellent example of customer-first thinking. The prices have barely changed in years, the food is delivered quickly, and purchasing is easy. Costco does not add complexity where it’s not needed. 

Despite growing to behemoth levels, Amazon still delivers packages on time. It’s cool to purchase anything from one place, but the core promise is a painless buying experience. It’s easy to refund items, and they arrive on time. That’s what the customer cares about.

Putting customers at the center will continue to attract headlines. Companies will claim that they are now focusing on the right variables—though it’s unclear what they were focusing on before. Teams need to ensure that these aren’t just words on a wall. Someone needs to consult the customers to hear what they think about your efforts.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Ruben Ugarte is the global expert in Decisions, Strategy, and Data and author of the Data Mirage and Bulletproof Decisions. He helps executives at the most innovative medium and large enterprises find their hidden treasures and use them to dramatically boost performance, increase profitability, and make their teams world-class. He has done this across five continents and in three languages. His ideas have helped hundreds of thousands of people make better decisions.


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