If there was one piece of advice that every marketer would agree on it, it’s that we are living in the “Age of the Customer”. Businesses are repeatedly reminded by marketers that marketing has to be customer-focused for a business to survive.
Without customers, there is no business.
Yet, many businesses that focus on customers still fail and fail horribly.
What’s the problem?
The problem, as pointed out by Marion Debruyne, marketing professor and author(@mariondebruyne), is not that businesses are failing to pay heed to that advice. It is their perspective when following it.
‘Build It and They Will Come’ May Not Be the Best Advice Anymore
Debruyne argues in her book, “Customer Innovation: Customer-Centric Strategy for Enduring Growth,” that the “build it and find a market” philosophy completely misses the mark in this new era of the “Age of the Customer.” He says this is because customers have an ever-increasing number of products and services from which to choose.
To find their niche, Debruyne says, businesses must do a better job of using the customer data they have. It isn’t enough to collect clicks and Facebook Likes. Businesses need to understand the customers behind them. They also have to do a better job of leveraging that data to retain existing customers and get new ones.
Customer-Focused vs Customer-Concentric: Better Focus Begins with a Shift
The shift advocated in “Customer Innovation” is more than just a matter of semantics. The change from customer-focused to customer-centric represents a deeper philosophical change. Debruyne is arguing for a customer-based philosophy integrated throughout the entire business, not just your front-line employees. This means more than creating a new mission statement and hiring more enthusiastic customer service representatives.
“Customer Innovation” advocates for customer involvement in areas of the business where they typically have not been heard from before. Consider customer involvement in research and development, for example. But it also goes beyond the notion of allowing customers to “co-create” the brand as advocated in the most forward-thinking marketing books today.
Specifically, the customer-centric philosophy discussed by Debruyne has three levels:
- Continuous feedback with current customers: This involves creating a channel of two-way communication between customers (solicited and unsolicited feedback) and the business (marketing and innovation based on that feedback)
- Viewing the customer journey as a whole: Debruyne’s customer journey model is more nuanced than the typical customer journey. She argues that the model should be more nuanced to capture what customers actually do, not what business owners think they do. By understanding how customers actually react, Debruyne says, business owners can make more appropriate and well-timed interventions to improve the customer’s journey to the objective at each stage.
- Predicting the future: Debruyne argues that business owners can learn and even capitalize on the future if they pay heed to the first two levels of her model, continuous feedback and more accurate view of customers (current and potential).
“Customer Innovation” explains Debruyne’s new model in detail, gives examples of companies that are implementing and walks readers through the steps of setting up siilar model in their businesses.
Explaining the Need for a New Model
But why is a new model needed? Debruyne explains its because the old way of doing things is no longer working. “Customer Innovation” details some current trends that demonstrate the need for a new approach:
- Financial fears: This is when management cuts back investment on vital innovation and growth in response to falling revenue instead of looking for ways to respond to changing customer trends.
- Feature-creep: This is when businesses try (unsuccessfully) to boost sales of a new product or service by adding features customers don’t really care about.
- Short-term marketing focus: This is when business owners sacrifice innovation that will lead to greater growth and focus instead only on making short term gains in the business.
In her book, Debruyne also explains the ways in which businesses often miss the mark when they do try to innovate. Examples include:
- Overshooting: Exceeding the requirements of the users (charging high prices for something that is viewed as average or lower in value than business owners actually rewalize.)
- Feature bloat: Adding too many features that users don’t even use anyway.
- Separation from reality: Creating products and services from a business owner’s personal reality rather than from the reality of the customers the business is supposed to be serving.
Will The “Customer Innovation” Model Work for You?
The answer will depend on your resources including budget and time.
In the book, Debruyne offers a very compelling and unique model to free business owner’s minds from being too emotionally invested in their products and services. Debruyne argues that business owners should focus on two things to get customers:
- Understanding how people use your products and services
- Understanding why people use your products and services
While the approach is applicable for any business, not all businesses have the resources to implement it correctly. And Debruyne seems to be pitching her model to larger companies and brands with the necessary staff and resources to do so.
“Customer Innovation” asks owners to challenge traditional thinking about marketing and to go deeper when evaluating the needs, desires and realities of their customers. Business owners should learn how customers use a product or service in their day to day lives. They can learn this by listening to social media feedback or asking customers directly through questionnaires or by chatting with them. They can also look for ways to observe how customers are using products on a daily basis.
Still, regardless of the size of your business, the philosophy behind Debuyne’s approach remains sound. Understanding your customer and working step-by-step to improve on that understanding will certainly improve any business, even if it’s only one customer at a time. This article is based on an electronic copy of “Customer Innovation” provided for reviewing purposes.