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How to achieve true customer-centricity: Eight insights industry leaders reflect on the future of insights

min. read

There is no doubt COVID challenged us to rethink many things ‚ÄĒ for the better. The same positive tendency is happening in the market research and customer insights industry. This trend doesn't come without challenges and struggles; however,¬†businesses express the need and will to do things differently. Hopefully, these intentions will set the path ahead with well-paved foundations and a clear direction.¬†

But let's take a step back, and¬†analyse¬†essential facts. Fundamentally, the critical business questions¬†haven't changed over the years. Companies want to connect with their (prospect) customers by actively listening and understanding their needs. But that is not an easy task, considering customers' needs change and fluctuate all the time ‚ÄĒregardless of COVID¬†or any other external factor. When we look at it as an ever-changing, dynamic discipline, we can say¬†customer understanding is continuously transforming.¬†

So, the big question is, "how to make your customer-centric efforts a success story?". Many companies are still on a journey to reach this objective and fully implement a customer-centric mindset throughout the organisation. For some, COVID has accelerated that journey. For others, they had to rethink their approach either because of decreased budgets or because traditional methodologies are not adequate anymore. 

The realistic view on customer insights today 

Based on some great projects we did last year here at boobook, from our perspective, businesses still invest in customer understanding ‚ÄĒ¬†some¬†even¬†more¬†than in the past.¬†But is this the case for¬†most¬†organisations? Is customer-centricity a key priority now? What if budgets are not there to invest in customer understanding?¬†

To get a broader view of where customer-centricity stands today, I decided to interview eight senior marketing and customer insights leaders across a wide variety of sectors, both the ones that are doing well because of the pandemic, as well as those being impacted badly. To share this in-depth analysis of current trends from the perspective of experts, we collected all the interviews in an extensive e-book you can download here. 

All experts passionately and openly talked about customer-centricity, from achievements and goals to struggles and challenges. Judging by their willingness to discuss this topic, it was a clear sign that customer-centricity is a top priority in many businesses. 

Here are the experts we’ve talked to: 

  1. Patrick Van Steelandt, VP Strategy, Niko, Construction (BE)
  1. Ruti Amal, Head of Customer Insights, Sodexo, B2B Services (UK)
  1. Louise Morgan, Senior Director International Marketing, Avis Budget Group, Travel (UK)
  1. Thijs Vanderhaegen, Head of Insights, VRT, Media (BE)
  1. Shirley Harding, Head of Market Research, Standard Bank South Africa, Finance (SA)
  1. Kevin Schou, Head of Insights & Analytics, Takeda, Pharma (UK)
  1. Veronique Luber, Director of Customer Insights, Disneyland Paris, Entertainment (FR)
  1. Benoit Pourgaton, Senior Marketing Director, Gameloft, Gaming (FR)

Topics overview 

Through our conversations, many fascinating insights emerged. While it was interesting to hear each person’s viewpoint and experience, my goal was to discover the red thread that connects the dots between different companies and their sectors. When gathering the feedback and revisiting my notes, I defined seven key topics that best describe the overall status of customer-centricity today. 

1. The current state of customer-centricity: In pursuit of ambitious goals 

There is the general belief that companies are behind on being truly custom centric compared to others. It shows that they feel there are still significant gaps to fill and that customer-centricity is still not the core focus of the organisation, at least not in terms of implementation. Truly listening to the customers isn't an easy shift for many organisations, especially the bigger ones, as it is challenging to implement it across all departments. 

2. The impact of the pandemic: Being agile is more important than ever 

A consensus is that customer-centricity has always been important. Truly listening to customers, being responsive, and implementing ‚Äúoutside-in‚ÄĚ thinking has been a high priority for many years.¬†The pandemic did not necessarily change this, but it did impact other business aspects.¬†

3. The new concept of data: Data needs to work harder 

Businesses still have plenty of data, but it is about analysing the right data. Additionally, more than before, data needs to work much harder. This comes from decreased budgets, data sources that aren't fully accessible (e.g., social media data), or the changes that force us to act fast.  

4. Connecting with customers in the pandemic world: A synthesis of MR and other data is the future 

The best way to listen to the customer is to do this in two ways, by combining transactional and primary research data. More than ever, businesses need both views to understand the customers' needs and behaviour. Organisations who want to understand their customers know how important it is to pair both sources.  

5. The (re) definition of customer insights: Decentralisation and data democratisation 

Organisations are more focused on building their expertise in customer understanding, driven by cost, time, and the abundance of inexpensive DIY tools. This trend only shows how vital customer-centricity has become. But how far are companies on this journey? Are they striving to have all expertise in-house? And how do they manage spreading this expertise? And more importantly, what role should the customer insight managers and providers play in the future? 

6. The role of technology in understanding customers: Digital tools are just a part of the puzzle 

While technology excels fast forward, we are overwhelmed with many basic and advanced tools. Those tools that focus on visualisation and reporting, like Tableau or PowerBI, are widely used, while the AI tools are following this trend very slowly. Many of these platforms claim the same benefits: "Fast, visual and easy to use by non-data scientists". So how come they are not entirely accepted and implemented within the organisations yet? 

7. Thriving as a customer-centric organisation:  Invest, disrupt, and act fast  

In conclusion, there is no doubt that customer-centricity is getting more and more attention these days, even though it has always been important. Most companies are on a journey to integrate it fully into their operations and bring it to the core of many decisions. But the question arises: "Which organisations will be most successful on this journey?". 

The next step towards more customer-centric businesses 

Many things have changed since the pandemic, both in our personal lives and at a business level. Hence, it's understandable that we, as consumer and customer, have different needs, but what are the changes in our conditions exactly? Will this change be permanent, or will it be "back to normal", or should we say "back as it was before". These questions have been raised so often since the pandemic hit us, and they all lead to customer-centricity. 

COVID also highlighted one of the main issues in customer insights: having lots of data isn't sufficient. At the end of the day, what counts is understanding the data, its application, and how to extract valuable insights. 

Listening to customers and extracting the correct insights can be achieved through different methods. An excellent example of the customer-centricity journey is "data democratisation", a critical topic mentioned many times throughout the sessions I had with experts in customer insights. Data democratisation is a term saying that customer insights and centricity are not centralised and steered by one team but many teams across the organisation. This is a significant step forward to embed customer-centricity in business processes and what all organisations should strive to achieve. However, that journey needs guidance, support and evolution to ensure the expertise is also correctly spread and understood. Every customer insights team, both within organisations and consultancy companies, has an essential role. 

We should see each other as collaborators in pursuing customer-centric success stories with joint forces. 

Want to know more about trends in customer insights and how the big players are pivoting through the pandemic crisis? 

Download the full e-book here!

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