From cappuccinos to carry-on: surprisingly simple practices in customer-centricity

We know it can be hard to move customer-centricity from a well-intended mission statement to a reality where customers are placed at the centre of business decisions, but the pay off will always come in the shape of better business results. A very practical place to start is turning your attention to the experience your customers have day in day out. If you don’t know what kind of experience they’re having - get out there and find out, fast.

Even organisations widely recognised as customer-centred look for ways to increase awareness of their customers' experience. At P&G Roisin Donnelly discovered a Pampers team in which no one had young children. Each team member was tasked with caring for a 'model' baby that would scream and wail for attention and recorded how it was treated over the course of a weekend in their care. Though it doesn't quite capture the experience of year-long sleep deprived new parents, it certainly helped put them in their customers' shoes in a way focus groups and sales data can't.

Pret a Manger lately published strong trading results with rising profit fuelling global expansion. They have long been acclaimed for outstanding customer service. What's so powerful is their recognition that customers' experience of their brand is lived through each and every one of their store employees and they invest in recruitment, onboarding and training accordingly. There's been much chatter recently about the initiative that allows their staff to give away free coffees to customers at their own discretion, with the Twittersphere speculating about why individuals have or haven't been gifted a free cappuccino on their daily sandwich run. The principle behind this initiative showcases the Pret philosophy. CEO Clive Schlee explained their decision was to "channel the cash we could have spent running loyalty programmes into a fund for each shop to spend on rewarding its customers". In other words, empowering the people closest to their customers, who have the greatest ability to improve their experience.

I was pleased though not surprised to see that Ryanair recently announced a return to profit in 2015 after they decided, in the inimitable words of CEO Michael O'Leary, to stop doing things that "unnecessarily p*** customers off". This revelation about the importance of customer experience came after Ryanair issued profit warnings in 2013. Their business results were the nudge needed to address a wide range of issues with their customer service which had become notorious. They increased carry-on luggage allowances, started allocated seating, and gave discounts for children's fares. They also introduced services for business travellers. They achieved an increase in traveller numbers, and saw profits rise. O'Leary himself admits they have further to go. But what this near Damascene conversion illustrates is that it's never too late to start practising customer-centricity, no matter the starting point.

Understanding the experience of your own customers and working hard to improve it is a solid path to delivering customer-centred growth that benefits the bottom line.

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You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership. We also explore the importance of customer-centricity in our Growth Drivers Study.