Your organisation’s ability to be customer-centered depends on its ability to (1) gather information about your customers, (2) translate that information into usable insights, (3) share those insights throughout the organisation, and lastly (4) react to those insights.
Below is an overview of these key information processes and some challenges you might encounter trying to implement them.
1. Information Acquisition Processes
These are the processes that enable you to gather information on, from, or about customers, users, and other relevant stakeholders. This information can originate from: market research, customer satisfaction studies, sales interactions (CRM), complaints, online behavior, service desks, etc. Additionally, the information could also come from industry reports, competitors, or knowledge institutions. The idea is that these processes allow information to continuously flow into your organisation.
- Data hoarding without a cause: Gathering everything without a clear idea as to why and how the information contributes to strategic or operational goals. Start by setting a goal you want to achieve. For example: Reduction of customer complaints by 50%.
- Over-reliance on a single data source: For example; automatically captured information such as: requests, complaints, purchases, returns, etc. Which are data points automatically registered in a CRM/data system without much human intervention. Diversity in sources will not only ensure depth, but will also involve different parts of the organization beyond IT or Data.
- Overlooking information sources: Customer-facing employees such as sales, service reps, and account managers are often untapped sources of information. While they have a lot of insights into customers and users they usually don’t have the opportunity to contribute their insights to the organisation’s general pool of knowledge.
2. Information Transformation Processes
Not all information is relevant. Information needs to be sorted and translated into usable insights for the rest of the organisation. Sharing all information will result in an overload and under-usage of information. An adequate ‘filter’ needs to be present that sifts through information and selects those bits and pieces that fit or could contribute to strategic or operational goals. This filtering could either be done by the teams gathering the information or it can be done by cross-functional teams (or individuals) such as customer experience managers or specific teams dedicated to a market segment.
- No interest: You might gather and provide insights but if the organisation's interest and commitment to customer information isn’t there it will be wasted effort. The cultural undercurrent in an organisation needs to be one that welcomes and values customer feedback and input. If this mindset is fostered, cultivated and rewarded, information usage will eventually increase.
- No ownership: oftentimes there is nobody specifically responsible for maintaining an end-to-end view on incoming customer information. If the organisation has teams or departments specifically dedicated to a customer segment this isn’t a problem, but when they are product or business activity (IT, NPD, HR, Marketing, etc.) oriented this view tends to be absent and it reduces the opportunities to link and leverage information.
- Ownership, but no mandate: If there is an owner of customer information it could be that this person has no real mandate to make changes based on the insights or opportunities they detect. Imagine a team that wants to improve a customer experience problem, but can’t as it lacks the mandate to bring different teams or departments together.
3. Information Sharing (or Diffusion) Processes
Relevant information needs to reach those teams that benefit from it. The more information is shared, the more it is considered common practice to discuss customer problems and opportunities. Additionally information should also move vertically. Management should have ready access and interest to relevant customer and user insights.
- Access to information: Customer information should be easily accessible, and it should be easy to add to this customer information. If information is hard to obtain, it will not be used. Additionally, if it’s difficult to share, people simply won’t.
- Internal communication: Internal communication plays an important role to keep the customer on the company’s radar. By sharing customer stories, project information, and company performance on customer-related topics (e.g. customer related KPIs) they play an important role in diffusion processes. If they are not involved, sharing will depend on other teams, who might not consider this part of their responsibilities.
- Information absorption: Text is fine, but images and video go much further to make employees empathise with customers. If the organisation is faced with software that lacks user friendliness, show customers struggling to find their way. If the organisation has provided solutions that had real impact on customers, let those customers tell their story. You need to make it as easy as possible for colleagues to absorb customer information.
4. Information Reactivity (or Utilisation) Processes
Most importantly you need to build the ability to react to customer information. These reactions can happen on a strategic level, with management deciding to move into or out of markets, but also on an operational level with product teams deciding to change features, or even on a more tangible level with customer support or sales people feeling empowered to solve small but meaningful problems. Without this reactive ability, gathering, transforming, and sharing information will only create overhead and costs.
- No agency/empowerment: Teams or individuals must be empowered to act in the customer’s best interest. If teams or individuals have the agency, support, and direction they need in order to make changes in the benefit of the customer, it will lead to happier customers and employees.
- No direction: Not all reactions are good. It is up to the leadership team to decide which direction the organisation is going and to make sure the rest of the organisation understands what that is.
- No evaluation: An element that should never be overlooked is how organisations evaluate outcomes from a customer or user perspective. The evaluation process provides a constant check with the market that feeds into information acquisition, transformation, and sharing processes.
Although information management is crucial, establishing these processes will require more than a procedural approach. Processes can only be successful when your leadership, structure, resources, and culture are aligned.
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