UX Research teams do more than deliver customer insights; they ensure products meet customer needs. This requires working in customer-centric organisations that understand and act on customer insights. To determine if organisations are truly customer-centric, we must define this concept. This article presents a framework and indicators of customer-centricity in organisations.
Leadership in customer-centric organisations is characterised by a deep commitment to customers. This means leaders personally understand the greatest challenges faced by customers and use this knowledge in their work, guiding the company.
- Regularly sharing customer feedback and success stories at all levels. For example, sharing customer stories at ‘All hands’ meetings.
- Leaders give teams the resources they need to improve the CX.
- Leadership rewards employees for delivering outsized impact to the CX.
- Leaders break down silos to transform the customer experience across the organisation rather than incentivising teams to optimise discrete pain points.
Tony Hsieh of Zappos was a renowned customer-centric leader. His philosophy of ‘Make every customer as happy as possible, even at the expense of sales—in the short term’ manifested in a 365-day returns policy and a desire for more people to call the contact centre to build deeper relationships – even though this can look like a greater expense on the balance sheet.
Customer-centric organisations prioritise improving the customer experience. Good CX is understood to be in the company’s best interest, even when the direct contribution to the bottom line is not always apparent. Where priorities are not customer-centric, they tend to focus on chasing the latest technology trends or mirroring competitor features.
- Space is made in prioritisation decisions for features that delight customers, not just resolve pain points.
- Teams review customer needs, jobs to be done (JTBD) and feedback when making product roadmap prioritisation decisions.
- UX issues are prioritised to fix with urgency (similar to tech ‘bugs’).
For example, Wise is so confident in the customer-centricity of its roadmap that it publishes it to show customers how its product will meet their needs.
Customer-centric organisations appreciate that customer experience is complex and can’t be summed in one neat metric. Customer-centric organisations will credit qualitative insights without discrediting them in decision-making alongside quantitative insights.
- Qualitative insights are appropriately weighted next to and integrated with quantitative insights in decision-making.
- Various customer metrics are tracked rather than one oversimplified one (e.g. NPS).
- ‘Design debt’ is tracked similarly to ‘tech debt’.
For example, Airbnb excels at using deep qualitative research alongside quantitative metrics in their decision-making. It’s been that way since their earliest days. At Airbnb, feedback about safety and trust issues led to the introduction of features like verified photos, profiles, and reviews. All of these enhanced the overall trustworthiness of the platform.
Customer-centric thinking and behaviors are ingrained in the company culture. For the tech part of a business, this means that customer research is regularly executed. At a front-line level, this means that customer service teams are empowered to resolve customer complaints. Customer-driven organisations will then give feedback on these experiences to systematise and reduce future complaints.
- Teams make time to conduct research to test the success of their products before launch (e.g. usability tests, experiments).
- Teams regularly review customer insights as part of their cadences.
- Frontline staff are empowered to solve customer complaints, and these resolutions are systematised to improve the customer experience.
Companies that aim for delight rather than pain point resolution can create powerful brand advocates. For example, Lush has their ‘random acts of kindness’ where they empower their staff to gift items to customers of their choosing.
The organisation hires and trains people to improve the customer experience and rewards those who do. For example, having dedicated UX Researchers and customer experience specialists at all organisational levels.
- Presence and seniority of customer insights specialists (e.g. UX Research).
- Performance evaluations acknowledge and reward customer-centric behaviours (e.g. Designers and PMs who build expertise in research, product teams that uplift key customer-centric metrics)
- Training and budget are provided for employees to keep their customer-centric skills up to date.
Focusing on UX Design and UX Research can significantly impact how organisations operate. For example, IBM, traditionally a hardware and software company, underwent a massive transformation by adopting a design thinking approach. They invested in building one of the largest in-house design teams globally, including UX researchers and designers. This shift led to the development of more user-friendly and customer-focused products and services, rejuvenating IBM’s brand in the tech market.
A framework for assessing customer-centricity in your organisation
Customer centricity can feel intangible, but it shouldn’t. This framework aims to make the concept more concrete, which will empower teams and organisations to build organisations that make better products.