What’s stopping you from being customer-focused

Do your ways of working allow you to solve customer problems?

Recognising the need to be customer-focused and actually being customer-focused are entirely different things.

Along with the constant request of marketing functions to act with greater bravery, one of the primary roles expected of them is to champion the needs of customers, to keep focused on the customer. Those companies not focused on the customer are more fragile, at greater risk of being out-manoeuvred by the ones who solve real problems customers care about, who also adopt speed, openness, experimentation, and risk taking.

The concern is that legacy functional structures are weakening the ability to solve the problems customers care about, and that businesses need to uninstall old processes much faster than they are currently doing. New specialist centres of excellence have sprung up as accelerators to drive out the old. It’s recognised that incremental improvements can’t be relied on, what’s needed are ‘big structural reorganizations’.

Yet purely relying on structures is unlikely to shift the mindset of an organisation. Solving customer problems isn’t just a mantra, it must be the way that you organise your work. Colleagues want to serve customers but functional agendas, layers of hierarchy and poorly defined interactions between groups prevent that. To optimise for the customer, you must start with your employees and move from ‘ways of working’ to ‘ways that people want to work to serve customers’.

Over-specialization may not be helping you solve customer problems

The last 2 years has seen a backlash against the drive towards specialisation that has been favoured by holding group companies. Almost a year ago, Marc Pritchard, P&G Chief Marketing Officer, stated that “we had too many people between us and the consumer… it was taking too long to get things done. We have to move a lot faster.” [Financial Times March 6, 2018]
Slow delivery caused by too much co-ordination overhead, lack of transparency and digital skills not readily available at scale are challenges for both the agency model and multinational companies, with the drive toward siloed expertise weakening the ability to solve problems.

When their roles are thin-sliced, people lose their purpose

When it comes to brand building, we are now seeing a more balanced discussion about the importance of driving collective cultural meaning alongside marketing personalisation. Both are important. Equally, the purpose of the work that people do is weakened if they can’t see how their efforts support the bigger goal. Excessive rules, processes, and a lack of connection to customers all get in the way of purpose. We are driven by what makes us similar, what unifies, not fragments us.

Structure solves for size, way of working solves for the customer

To combat negative economies of scale and move quicker, client organisations are restructuring by ‘unbundling’ into different group configurations. Incubators are creating conditions for the bold to flourish.

What we most need to answer is how to release greater ingenuity in the centre of our organisations. How can we support colleagues to act in service of customers as individuals and give them the permission to make decisions that serve the customer?

To answer this, we need to improve the interactions between groups in ways that join up people around problems that matter to customers.

Avoiding fields, jumping fences

Specialists deepen our understanding of the world, but we depend on generalists to change it. Skilled generalists can be relied upon to make better decisions. So to solve the problems that customers care most about, we must remove internal disciplinary boundaries and, to quote Bruce Mau, “Avoid fields. Jump fences.” [https://www.manifestoproject.it/bruce-mau/]

The World Economic Forum has identified that the most important skills in the next 20 years will include critical thinking, creativity and complex problem solving. Pattern recognition is the meta-skill that underpins these and it is fuelled by interdisciplinary knowledge,

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, who has just been named the 2018 WFA Global Marketer of the Year, spoke last year on the urgency of developing Marketers who have interdisciplinary knowledge and can think like a GM.

Summary – the need to design ways of working for the holistic view

How can we change our ways of working and team configurations, build greater customer understanding and empathy, and in turn deliver more ingenuity with greater commercial impact?

We need adaptable individuals but, more urgently, we need to reconfigure the way we work to enable our workforces to build these interdisciplinary skills and solve customer problems.

To read more on how to form an integrated business plan that focuses on customer-centricity go here.

And to find out how Brand Learning can help support your organisation in designing and implementing a new operating model fit for the future, please get in touch.

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