What ‘customer centricity’ means to me

The season of giving is a good reminder to keep giving back

I was recently asked by the publisher of one of our sister publications, Canadian Insurance, to put together a panel discussion for their annual Top Broker Summit about “customer centricity” — but not one dominated by insurance execs.

Instead, apart from an Aviva Canada representative, I recruited the vice-president of marketing from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the chief marketing officer of on-demand food service Feast and the chief creative officer from Juniper Park/TBWA to share their thoughts on putting consumers at the heart of everything a brand does.

Moderating a panel makes it difficult to take notes while people are speaking, but in general our panelists suggested it starts with listening, by recognizing that customers may try to access you through channels where you don’t have a big presence, to apologize when you mess up and to recognize that customer centricity is no longer a nice-to-have. The days of having a great product or service and hoping people will come are long gone.

I pointed out a good illustration of customer centricity in the latest TV spot from U.K.-based retailer Marks & Spencer. More like a short film than a traditional commercial, the spot tells the story of Mrs. Claus, who sees her husband off on Christmas Eve, only to discover a last-minute request from a boy named Jake. His dog ate his older sister’s sneakers, and he would love to get her a new pair, even though he knows it’s unlikely.

Mrs. Claus springs into action, donning a vibrant red pantsuit that would not look out of place on Hilary Clinton, piloting an equally vibrant red helicopter and delivering the gift by entering through the front door, rather than the chimney.

Notice what happens here. Mrs. Claus responds immediately (or “in real-time,” as we might say today). She doesn’t ignore the request or push back because Jake hasn’t worked within the established process or procedure. She makes best use of the resources at her disposal (though one would wonder why Santa hangs onto those reindeer if the helicopter is an option. Fuel costs, maybe?) and works creatively to deliver top-notch service — leaving a note to the sister that says, “Jake really wanted you to have this.”

Some of those on our panel said that being customer-centric is not necessarily a competitive advantage anymore but an expectation, and that’s true. However advertising and other forms of marketing need to evoke a sense of how brands live and breathe customer-centricity, as “Christmas With Love From Mrs. Claus” does. This is something CMOs need to articulate as much as any mission statement, and it needs to inform the stories they tell and the dialogue they have with consumers at every stage of their relationship.

The last important part of any customer-centric strategy is gratitude. It’s something the best brands authentically feel towards their audience, and it’s certainly something I feel towards the audience that has remained loyal to Marketing for more than 100 years. Which is why the only way to end this is with two simple but powerful words: Thank you.

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