Ashton Media
Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

What it really takes to create customer centricity at the very top

Melis Senova 360 Symposium

In April, 2014, more than 150 customer experience, data, marketing and business  leaders participated in the first  Customer  360 Symposium  run by  Ashton Media.

Many companies around the globe are on the journey towards customer centricity. This shift is giving rise to many ‘new’ disciplines emerging within organisations large and small. Dedicated customer experience teams focussing on tactical as well as strategic challenges, and the adoption of design thinking as a business competency are relevant examples. We rarely discuss what this shift is actually going to require of us personally.

Today’s post is the adaptation transcript of a question and answer session where Mark Abay of Ashton Media interviews  Dr Melis Senova, Founder and Director of Huddle, regarding her keynote address at the Customer 360 Symposium in Hunter Valley in April 2014.

This talk shares experiences from varied clients engaged at the most senior level, and describes what it actually takes for CEOs and their leadership teams to become truly customer centric.

The challenges within organisations on creating customer centricity


Melis, your presentation focuses on creating customer centricity  at the very top of organisations.

In your opinion, what are the usual challenges within organisations when it comes to doing that and how do they overcome them?


Well, at the very top there are many different challenges and the ones that I’m going to be talking about are the ones that are really difficult to overcome, and the reason why they’re really difficult to overcome is because they’re embedded in the way we do business.

These are the things that we’ve been doing since the 20th century industrial era. One of those things for example is, what I refer to as solution seduction, which is this almost uncontrollable urge to jump to solutions, especially at the very top, and we don’t allow ourselves to spend a lot of time thinking about what else is possible.

Another point is around risk mitigation and evidence. In a field which is quite intangible, irrational, and emotional, I’m referring to customer experience obviously, being evidence based, fear driven and risk averse doesn’t always result in the most desirable customer experience.

Especially at the very top where you’re under board pressure and you’re talking about timeframes that are both long and short. You’re under the type of pressure which is really about numbers and growth and that sort of thing. There’s quite a distance and dynamic range between the day to day realities of executive  initiative and what results in a desirable and loving customer experience.

Design thinking is bringing the balance back to business


Also you touch on design thinking as a concept. Tell us a little bit more about that.


Well, design thinking has become quite a popular term thanks to IDEO and Tim Brown.  The way that Huddle talks about design thinking is really from the perspective of bringing balance back to our thinking. As I mentioned before, the last entry has really been about analytical thinking. It’s been about process, it’s been about serial thinking, step by step, rational, didactic, evidence, all of that.

And what design thinking does, it actually acknowledges that that’s a strength, then also brings this different form of thinking which is more around divergence, it’s around human centeredness, it’s optimistic, it’s iterative, so the two together, actually is where you get the magic.

Design thinking isn’t the solution; it is bringing the balance back to something that’s been missing for a long time in business.

Who’s leading the way in terms of customer centricity?


And coming back to customer centricity, which are the brands around the world that are getting it right? Who’s leading the way in terms of customer centricity?


I have thought about this. I get asked this quite often and what I would prefer to do is not go with the Apples and those sorts of examples because they’re obviously doing it really well but to bring it really, to the local context.

There’s an organisation which we’ve had the privilege to work with and that’s Suncorp.  And, they are, even at the very top, quite evolved in terms of their thinking around customers. What we’re seeing more prevalent is the word “customer” or “customer experience” in the strategic pillars of an organisation.

This is true for Suncorp. The way they talk about customer centricity and the way they behave is really quite evolved. What I mean by that is, they’re moving away from thinking about a customer exchange or a value exchange type of interaction with their customer, to one that’s actually about creation. So that’s a really evolved way of thinking and that’s right here, in Australia.

Who should own customer experience within an organisation?


And another question I’d like to ask you is, who within the organisation should own customer experience? Should it be the CMO, should it be operations, customer service?


That’s a good question and I have a bit of a problem with the word “own” customer experience. I guess my perspective is that everyone in the organisation should be accountable for the customer experience, especially if you’re in a business that is a service provider.

You’re actually in the business to be in service of the customers so anything that happens within that business has some impact on the customer experience.

The question around ownership, which is a real question we come across all the time in large organisations, about who should be engaging  Huddle, should it be the CMO, or should it be the customer experience director.

I think we should take the ownership of customer experience completely off the table and be thinking about it as a completely cross-functional initiative, because everything needs to come together.

Not just the frontline staff, but everything behind the scenes – IT, the systems, the way that people are trained, the culture – everything contributes to a good customer experience.  So, the question around ownership I think is one perhaps that we could move away from.

Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media About Mark Abay - Content Director, Ashton Media
Mark is Content Director at Ashton Media. It's his job to create interesting and engaging conference programs that stretch the thinking of our attendees. Mark works closely with our industry advisors to ensure the conference content is aligned with the needs and interests of our audiences.