Since its founding in 1995, Amazon’s famous mission has been “to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.” But aren’t all successful companies, to some degree or another, obsessed with their customers? What made Amazon unique?
The answer lies in truly appreciating, and then embracing, what customer obsession is all about. It isn’t merely saying that “the customer is always right.” It’s not simply a dedication to customer research via consumer panels and focus groups. It’s not a buzzword or hyperbole or the sales department’s strategy du jour.
Customer obsession can be defined as an outside-in business approach that uses data-driven insights to increase the lifetime value of customers by continuously providing them with quality and meaningful experiences.
That is, perhaps, a technical description of a very basic goal: to passionately understand and anticipate your customers’ needs, even before they are aware of them.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos credits customer obsession for the launch of Kindle, Amazon Prime, Echo and Amazon Web Services. Gartner, Forrester and Salesforce all believe in the power of customer obsession. It can be your key to winning as well. And here’s how it’s done.
The goal of customer obsession is to build experiences around what your customers want before they ask you for it. That requires data, and lots of it.
Customer data comes in many forms. Demographics, psychographics, purchase records, shopping habits, content preferences and pain points are just a few examples that can be used to inform personas and journeys.
Taken together, they can help you identify, relate to, and provide the right experiences for your customers.
Customer data is also drawn from first-, second- and third-party sources. First-party data comes from within the organization. It originates with your customers, which naturally makes it less assumptive.
For most companies, first-party data is also difficult to populate at large scale, which means you also will need to supplement from second- and third-party sources.
In a nutshell, second-party data is someone else’s first-party data. Often it’s primary data about your current or prospective customer that comes from a trusted source; e.g., a marketing partner or other alliance enterprise.
For example, sharing data between travel and tourism partners is a common second-party practice.
Third-party data comes from independent providers with no direct connection.
Databases like Dun & Bradstreet, for example, supply information by industry or category, as does Adobe Analytics through its libraries of data. A wide spectrum of sources, tools and datasets ensures that businesses of all sizes are accommodated, including user testing and survey tools for SMBs.
The job of the marketer is to turn all this data into a single, 360-degree view of the customer. It’s critical to learn pain points, content interests, channel preferences—every point on the buyer journey—and then improve the customer experience at each step of the way.
A Customer Data Platform (CDP) can be invaluable in analyzing data to create that 360-degree view. CDPs allow marketers to link together data from disparate sources in order to understand customers from a single viewpoint.
Furthermore, many CDPs incorporate artificial intelligence technology that can help you do the predictive analytics necessary for true customer obsession. Combining multiple sources of data (first-, second-, and third-party) will amplify the effectiveness of predictive analytics.
Data alone will not ensure a customer-obsessed mindset. The right organizational culture is also needed. Silos must disappear and cross-team collaboration must be increased.
Data may uncover insights—but those insights must be acted upon by creative, customer support, product development and sales teams on a timely basis.
Change begins at the top, with leaders who believe in customer obsession. Next, organizations need to evaluate their current state by taking inventory of their current martech stack and internal practices.
Finally, the company needs to build out a roadmap to its new destination by involving all stakeholders, including IT, marketing, finance and senior executives. It will take a sustained commitment along with investments in staff, tools and methods to get on the right path.
Customer obsession has both external and internal benefits. It has been proven to improve corporate performance and preserve brand relevance.
In a world of instant gratification where anything we want can be delivered to us in a few hours, brands need to stay in the conversation. Customer obsession can help ensure that relevance.
Customer obsession also improves operational efficiency. It has a way of taking down walls between departments and giving teams a common focus.
In critical times like now, when the planet is consumed with social and public health concerns, companies that are farther along in their digital maturity and customer understanding will have an easier time of pivoting to meet their customers’ changing priorities.
In summary, a successful transition to a customer-obsessed approach can’t be a single event. It must define the very character of the organization. It will never be implemented through a single tool, or a dataset. It’s not one and done.
There is a constant iterative process to customer obsession. As your customers grow and change, you must not only grow and change with them, but also stay one step ahead.
The ultimate goal is to provide that sense of value throughout your customer’s journey, so your brand can thrive and grow over the long haul. It won’t happen overnight—but the results will be worth it.
Toniann Mendelzon is Strategic Account Director and digital marketing strategist at R2integrated, a full-service digital agency that creates digital solutions that connect and accelerate customer experiences to drive impact for mid-market brands.
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