Artwork by Mantraste

A customer-centric culture is a nirvana for many of us, and many brands can claim that their research and marketing departments are fully customer-centric. But there is a difference between being customer-aware and customer-centric, and the difference is dependent on the business driving this important culture across the whole organization.

That in and of itself is a very difficult task.  So, I have created a simple four step approach to ensure such a culture is fully adopted across the workforce, where key decisions are informed by high quality, reliable insight:

Step 1 – Connection.

The moment customer feedback is put into a report, it instantly becomes detached from the source and easy to ignore. In many ways, this detachment is due to researchers becoming the proverbial middleman between the stakeholders who use the feedback data for important decisions, and the customers who provide that data. Cutting out the middleman is not an option in this case, but bringing stakeholders into the research experience as observers is definitely an option that some research agencies are already doing.

These stakeholder experiences usually take place in research tasks such as focus groups to enable a direct communication between stakeholders and research participants, which works to provide an important context and eliminates any detachment that might have occurred otherwise. This works well towards building a customer-centric culture, bringing the stakeholders and management staff back into the loop in an engaging way.

It isn’t just stakeholders that can benefit from this connection; any employee wishing to request research being done and who would be handling the resulting data and insights will benefit from forming a connection to the research participants, as it reinforces the fact that the data comes from real people who will be effected by any decision made by the business. This is a particularly poignant note that needs to be actively remembered throughout all stages of the research experience, and ultimately effects the way that the insights are handled and used at the end.

Step 2 – Education.

With customer concerns firmly embedded in the minds of senior decision-makers, it is impactive to capitalize on this and educate individuals on the value of research in identifying and addressing customer-led challenges. There are many options available to researchers when it comes to education such as this. One option available is education through academic courses; there are many institutions that run courses that focus on identifying the values of research, but even the quality market research courses from institutions such as the UK Market Research Society and the U.S. Insights Association will be enough to educate decision-makers on the topic. However, for this option to work those taking the courses would have to have an academic learning style that not all people like.

Other options are available, of course. Insights conferences and other research events are fantastic places that provide access to a variety of educational resources and opportunities, but also the talks, panels, and seminars within them are educational in and of themselves; the topics discussed will actively show the value of research when it comes to identifying and addressing customer-led challenges. This also caters to a different learning style than the academic route, as it is generally more interactive; there are many decision-makers in this world that learn better by watching and doing rather than studying, and thus could benefit from the interactive, discussion-led route.

Another route available to decision-makers is learning through colleagues or by first-hand experience. Spending time within the insights department within your business will enable decision-makers to see the value of research in action in real-time. Going through the motions of a research project will educate decision-makers, not only on the process of market research, but of the timescales, methodologies, and skills used to enhance the insights generated throughout the process.

Identifying the ROI of research and insights can also be seen through the progress the business is making. It is obvious that the decisions a business makes could be the difference between gaining profits or going out of business, and it can be tempting for companies to rely on their gut instinct or fall back on historical experience while pocketing the money that they ‘save’ from their research budget. But there is a proven return on research investment which can be seen directly from business data such as the success of new product developments and steadily increasing and retained customer satisfaction. Identifying this ROI and sharing it with key stakeholders and decision-makers will allow them to see that the true value of research isn’t found purely within the research itself, but also from the success derived from projects that this research has accurately informed.

Step 3 – Action.

Now that decision makers understand the value of insight, and the options available to them – it is important to look at the process of commissioning research. It’s all very well, creating forms that managers can fill out and submit to research departments to request a specific type of research be conducted, there are initiatives that research departments can undertake to better contribute to other areas of business within this commissioning process.

One example of this is monthly cross-department insight-sharing sessions. One or two representatives from each department within the business attends this meeting and shares information about the research they are conducting; what stage they are currently in, what insights they’ve generated, how they’ve put them to use, and what impacts this has had on their department and on the business as a whole. This simple action of sharing updates actively demonstrates the continuous value of research to other departments, while simultaneously keeping them up to date with the work going on in other areas of the business.

Another example, is a short survey (timed approximately 1-3 minutes) that is sent to departments after a project has concluded, that gathers information on the how the research experience went and also asks what other projects research departments can help with next. Once the first research project has been concluded, the department will be able to see the value of the research, and also allows then to request assistance on other projects they are currently designing or conducting.

Step 4 – Activation.

Finally, to be truly customer centric – a brand must not just understand what their customers are telling them, but also have robust systems in place to make changes based on that feedback. Insights are only valuable if actioned upon, so whatever the infrastructure plans are, they must reflect this principle in order for a business to be successfully customer-centric. This final step is not about reporting, but putting the tools in place that enable project-based, cross-functional collaboration on reported findings.

One activation technique, is allowing company-wide access to the insights and data generated; this allows the insights to be actioned upon at every level on the business and even enables new insights to be discovered. For this technique to achieve its full potential within a business, basic training on research and insights/data interpretation can be conducted within each department; this will ensure that every employee has a working knowledge of how research data is applied and affects their work both on a day-to-day and long-term basis. This simple action will open up myriad of opportunities for employees to discover customer anxiety points within their department and thus allow the business to update policies and processes to eliminate negative experiences.