This article first appeared in ‘Getting to grips with customer obsession’, where you can learn more about the benefits and challenges of this strategy.


The case for customer obsession is clear but executing a customer-centric strategy across a large, complex organization requires vision and long-term commitment.

Delivering a seamless customer experience that exceeds expectations encompasses every department and team. From product development and marketing to nurturing ongoing relationships – it’s all part of the journey. With constantly evolving technology capabilities, a growing mountain of data, and increasing consumer demands, the goalposts are constantly on the move.

There is no one-size-fits-all route to success with customer obsession. However, there a few core elements that all CX leaders have in place:

1. Set the vision from the top

Customer obsession must be driven from the very top. The vision and value proposition must clearly articulate what top-class customer experience looks like and why it’s important. Simultaneously, it must define standards and expectations for every employee in the business. Implementing a customer-centric strategy requires a significant culture shift. This kind of wholesale change can only happen through an authentic, long-term commitment at the board and executive level.

“Business leaders have to be prepared to take a step back and empower their teams to take risks”

HP’s former global head of innovation and customer strategies, JC Quintana, explains that responsibility for CX can’t just fall on the marketing function. “We’re seeing CMOs take more of the leadership role over customer experience. However, this must be a shared role across the C-level of the company,” he says.

2. Connect the dots between customer and data

At the core of successful customer obsession strategies are insights and data. The elements tell you about the wants and needs of your customers. Every customer is unique, with a whole range of constantly evolving motivations, emotional, and practical needs. Brands must, therefore, develop the ability to respond to those needs in real-time. Investing in the infrastructure, technology and processes that enable them to listen and track customer feedback and behavior can all help with this. “In an era of complexity, human insight will be key,” says Alex Craddock, former global head of marketing for personal systems, HP. “Being able to synthesize the data and identify human insight will be critical.”

“What’s really important is getting the right customer to the right product”

Vikrant Batra, CMO at HP

At the frontline, customer feedback systems make it easy for customers to share their thoughts, comments, and complaints. Firstly, customers use channels ranging from surveys to web intercepts and conversations with customer-facing employees. Secondly, qualitative customer and employee insights can then be combined with operational data around sales, customer acquisition, brand engagement, etc. This provides a detailed picture of each and every customer, their behavior, and individual customer journey. Distributed across the organization, this information informs decisions on innovation and execution. The data can drive personalized customer experiences, and show return on investment.

3. Align operations to the customer journey

Research shows that customer journey management (33%) is the top digital-related priority for larger organizations, as they aim to deliver an omnichannel experience to the customer. Data provides the foundations for delivering personalized experiences across the customer lifecycle. However, acting on these insights calls for collaboration at an epic scale across large organizations. Such actions often demand major structural changes within organizations.

Previously, different departments may have focused on their own specialist areas of the business, regrouping occasionally to review the quarterly sales figures or discuss long-term plans. On the other hand, a customer-obsessed culture demands much closer integration, particularly between sales, marketing, and customer service teams. At software company Kimble, this integration is facilitated through implementing cross-functional, agile teams. These teams are empowered to work on distinct CX projects.

“Agile has gone from being a software method to a way of working, in the past 20 years. Brands such as Netflix, Apple, and Bosch have adopted the method as a way of making operations more customer-centric,” says Sarah Edwards, CEO, International at Kimble. “The good news is that is doesn’t require waterfall change. Instead, it requires you to identify areas within the business that you think will benefit most from customer-centricity. You should also consider which areas require the most innovation. Then, when you have a team, they can get to work right away.”

4. Hire for customer focus 

Needless to say, hiring the right people is integral to rolling out a successful customer obsession strategy. That means, working to attract candidates with customer-focused skills and values. Candidates should be naturally empathetic and service orientated. This applies even when the role is not a traditionally customer-facing one.

Kirsty Traill, former VP Customer Support at Hootsuite, says that this is a core priority for the business when hiring: “We’ve included a customer experience or customer focus question in every single one of our interviews, across the entire Hootsuite organization. Whether you work in development, support or even finance, everybody at Hootsuite or interviewing with Hootsuite, is asked to provide an example of when they gave exceptional customer support or had an impact on the customer experience.”

As part of the company, people need to be supported with appropriate training and coaching schemes. As a result, staff can boost their own skills around customer-centricity and maximize the data, insights, and tools at their disposal. Compensation and reward schemes can also incentivize managers and staff on customer satisfaction scores. This will ensure the customer is front-of-mind at all times.

There is no quick fix when it comes to customer obsession and we’ve only scratched the surface of the change required to make it a reality. To be successful it has to be authentic. Consistency is key. Most importantly, it needs to be threaded through absolutely everything you do. It has to become a way of life.

Read our full guide to mastering customer obsession:

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