Ubiquity Lab

Is customer centricity a dirty word, or your marketing super power?

We delve into the earth-shattering idea of actually listening to your customers. We jest, but in actual fact we mean truly listening, and it may just be your competitive advantage.

You’ve got to love jargon. And there’s been some mainstays for a few years now in the business world. Digital transformation anyone? Or how about corporate synergy, net-new, or move the needle?


Personally, my guilty pleasure is ‘utility’ – although it’s a cracker of a word, and I’ll continue to trot this out.


However, ‘customer centricity’ is the phrase that’s really starting to irk me – and not because I disagree with the sentiment of it, or its importance. But because it’s so flipping obvious. It’s a no-brainer and should be at the forefront of thinking and business decision making.


One of the better definitions of customer centricity comes from Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati:

red heart painted on a blue wall
The catalyst for brand love is ensuring customers are at your core.
“Becoming customer-centric means looking at an enterprise from the outside-in rather than the inside-out — that is, through the lens of the customer rather than the producer. It’s about understanding what problems customers face in their lives and then providing mutually advantageous solutions,” Gulati said.

I wholeheartedly agree with this, but it’s also why I’m starting to roll my eyes when I hear it bandied around with corporate oblivion.


To be honest, I‘d suggest that customer centricity is still far more aspirational than tangible.


And until it’s embedded in your organisation’s DNA – strategy, planning, service and value proposition delivery – that’s unfortunately where it’s likely to stay.


How many times have you seen organisations appear to forget the central tenant of centricity when they work it into a strategy: it’s about the customer and their needs, not you or your business.


To be clear, when you ask the marketing team – at the end of the process – to find a compelling way to ‘sell’ the value and benefits of a product, which was primarily designed to enhance margin, you’re not operating with customers at your core.


Smart Company’s cheat sheet is a fairly succinct – albeit tongue in cheek – way to assess where you sit on the centricity fence:

This then begs the question of “how do we know what our customers think?” – which is a question I was asked at a presentation recently.

To say I was surprised is an understatement.  


My response was simple: “Ask them”.


Cue blank stare, and the need to elaborate.


Now I’m willing to bet this organisation may have customer centricity, brand love, or words to that effect detailed as a core strategic pillar.


But to be frank, if you’re solely looking at data, NPS or other survey results, you are not living the customer-centric ethos.


You cannot overstate the value and insight that you derive from sitting in a room with your customers, potential customers, and former customers.


Talk to them. Walk in their shoes.


Understand what you do well, and badly, from their perspective. Unpack their needs, emotional triggers and pain points.


We’ve done a multitude of these sessions, and the nuggets that come out of them blow people away. Here are a few verbatim examples (with the brands involved removed):

A boy looking surprised with a book open and open mouth

Too often, I suspect we forget the importance of talking to people who buy our products and services.


Great organisations don’t forget. If you look at marketing machines like Bunnings, Nike, GE and Warby Parker, they all have a deep understanding of their customer and delivering what they need.


They listen and act. And when you boil it down, that’s all that really matters.


It’s nonsensical developing a marketing strategy until you understand your audience.


Make it your 2019 mission to truly understand your customer, and to exceed their expectations. And feel free to use the jargon you love – utility anyone? – as long as it’s what your customers most want to hear.

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