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How do you build a customer centric organisation?

The age old mantra of the customer is always right was first used by retail pioneers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. Today’s innovators are as clear: "In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts," - Jeff Bezos

Being able to understand what your customers want is essential to surviving as a business and now that eCommerce is at the forefront of retail globally, it is critical your organisation is customer centric, understanding and responding to why customers do and do not buy.

The problem: Organisations are the biggest enemy of the customer

The problem is not digital but organisations: more often than not, organisations stand in the way of getting it right. It’s not that people choose to do this deliberately, but the moment organisations are created, they develop a rigidity and unresponsiveness to the outside world that can quickly become a challenge for the customer. Customers are forced to fit to the organisation, not the other way around. To help organisations listen hard and recognise the customer agenda, they need a process that breaks through and places the voice of the customer at the heart of the organisation and its leadership. 

How do you do this in a world of 400 emails a day?

1. It is important not to think of digital as a separate entity

There shouldn’t be a ‘digital strategy’, but you should be able to answer the question ‘how will digital support us to deliver our strategic intent?’. If you don’t, digital will get a life of its own and there will be no direct link between investment in the channel and business performance.

2. Hypothesis creation is essential

As the world continues to change at an increasing velocity, certainty reduces and the potential for disagreement increases. We need a way of working that legitimises not knowing the answer and supports a cheap, quick and reliable approach to finding a solution that works. Using data to create proven solutions – management by theses – is an increasingly risky approach to solution generation. It may have worked in slower changing times when past experience and historical data were likely to provide a credible insight into the future, but things are changing too fast to risk considerable investments on analysis alone.

3. Do not just test - learn from each one to direct your next steps

Test and learn needs to be the ‘everyday’ process in a modern businesses culture. Driving from a hypothesis, the organisation should be looking for outcomes from testing and judge these against criteria established in advance.  Driving successful tests requires a range of new capabilities and revivals in others. Whilst analytics is indeed a marketing cornerstone today, so is some understanding of ethnography.  Copywriting may well return to being a core capability, given that the only thing that converts interest into engagement and then into a transaction is words. "If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness." - Jeff Bezos

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James Hammersley is the co-author of Leading Digital Strategy a guide to eCommerce strategy published by Kogan Page. He is a founding partner and director of Good Growth, a digital change consultancy which has worked with organisations such as The Economist, The Co-operative, O2 and Manchester United.

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