Achieving Customer Centricity: Five Tips to Help You Get It Right

More and more financial institutions want to transform their organization to be more customer centric and focus on transforming their customer relationship marketing capabilities. Like many in the industry, banks have seen the impact of digital and how it’s changing the way in which marketing must interact with customers and prospects. The concept of data-driven, highly addressable messaging at every touchpoint requires new internal skills and organizational design.

At a recent offsite event, our team spent the day with the senior marketing, HR, operations, and IT leaders of a top-five financial institution. The purpose was to discuss a customer-centric strategy. As we were preparing for the offsite, it became quite apparent that these leaders were not too interested in why moving to highly addressable marketing was important. For the most part, they all agreed. The burning question they needed to address was how they were going to do it. We were a bit surprised. In our experience, firms who start down this path typically spend most of their efforts on aligning around the what and why. However, as we worked with them to prepare for the offsite, it became quite clear.

This institution already knew the what and why. In fact, this was not the first time they had headed down this path. They made two failed attempts at achieving a customer-centric transformation in the past decade because they couldn’t overcome the internal organizational challenges that were required.

Overcoming the organizational impact of a customer-centric transformation can be daunting and stories like the one described above are not the exception. In fact, the majority of these transformations fail for the very same reasons. Why?

Many firms try to enable a customer-centric transformation within their existing organizational structure rather than take the time to truly consider the extent of the internal processes and organizational changes required. Why?

The answer is simple. It is hard and it takes time to implement. What many organizations fail to realize is that what is needed is an experienced enabled operating model designed around what is right for the customer, not what is easy for the company. Many organizations decide on what is easy for the company… and end up failing in the long run.

Here are five tips to overcome these challenges and achieve organizational alignment in your journey to customer centricity.

Lesson 1 – Customer Experience: Define It End-to-End Then Design Interactions

The end-to-end customer experience should drive how interactions and touchpoints are designed. Many organizations define high-level goals around products and brand, but they allow the customer experience to be defined separately at each of the touchpoints. This leads to an inconsistent customer experience. Remember, customer experience is the perception based on the sum total of all customer interactions across multiple touchpoints. Therefore, organizations need to start with a clearly defined end-to-end customer experience and then translate how that experience will be executed through all interactions across multiple touchpoints.

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Lesson 2 – Structure: Assign Organizational Authority & Accountability

Changing processes means changes to the organizational structure. Regardless of whether the organization is aligned around customer segments or products, there should be an integrated organizational structure around the customer experience across media/channels.

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Lesson 3 – Roles & Responsibility: Create a Chief Customer Officer

There needs to be a single point of accountability for enforcing the customer experience across media/channel. The role of the Chief Customer Officer is fairly new with an average tenure of two years. This role is on the rise with 85% of CCOs now sitting on the executive team, up from 50% in 2012. The majority of these individuals are sourced internally to fill the role. They come from a variety of departments, including marketing, sales, service, and operations.

Lesson 4 – Culture: Business and IT departments Are In It Together

The cultural norms of business and IT traditionally have been diametrically opposed. In the fast-paced digital marketing world, marketers and the business teams blame IT for being too slow to react to their needs and IT complains the business teams do not know what they want and requirements are always changing. For firms who have been successful in customer-centric transformations, the blame game has come to an end as internal organizations realize they are in it together. These historically siloed organizations are now breaking down barriers. The CCO and CIO are working closer than ever. Both business and IT organizations need to be able to support rapid learning, application of insight to decisions, and nimble collaboration around the customer. This can only be achieved through closer collaboration and an understanding of the critical role each plays in the process.

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Lesson 5 – Incentives & Rewards: You Are What You Measure

At the end of the day, the success of the customer-centric transformation will depend on whether you have the right measurements in place and reward people for it. In order to do this, you need to be able to clearly translate the customer strategy and vision into tangible measures that people across the organization can influence. Those measures need to be clearly linked to compensation, rewards, and recognition.

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In summary, the journey to becoming a customer-centric organization is achievable. It is not an easy path and it takes focus and dedication to overcome the organizational challenges. Many companies lose sight of the customer experience as internal processes and organizational structures evolve organically over time. That said, the payoff for following through on the customer-centric journey can be enormous. Those companies that have succeeded are able to connect with high-value customers and prospects in a more integrated, relevant, and consistent manner, resulting in innovation, retention and loyalty. It is these companies that are in a position to disrupt their industries (i.e., Apple, Google, Amazon, USAA, Tesla, to name a few). Will you be in a position to disrupt or be disrupted?


Brian S. Morris is a Partner at Merkle and has more than 20 years of financial services industry experience. Mr. Morris has worked with banks, insurance, and financial markets companies globally in developing and advancing their customer analytics and digital strategy, which includes media/channel, customer/marketing analytics, organizational alignment, enterprise data management, data quality, situational and advanced analytics, big data discovery analysis, and data visualization.

Daniel Alpert is a CRM Strategy Consultant at Merkle. Mr. Alpert brings a wealth of insights and practical hands-on experience from 20 years of work in the financial services, consumer packaged goods, and pharmaceutical industries. With a focus on digital innovation, he provides organizational and business process expertise to global companies striving to increase productivity, improve quality, and achieve a customer-centric approach to interacting with its customers.

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