Rethinking What it Takes to Lead Customer-Centric Organizations

Experts across industries agree that customer centricity, a way of designing products and services that begins with understanding the customer, will not just percolate from the bottom-up. Embedding customer centricity into the culture of an organization requires a strong leader – someone who sees that doing good for the customer is good for business, and who invests in making changes in line with this approach.

The inaugural CGAP Leadership Series on Customer Centricity event brought together leaders innovating and paving the way for financial inclusion in India, as well as heads of companies who have successfully implemented a customer-centric business model. Through a storytelling approach leaders shared their successes, challenges, and strategies that helped these companies succeed on the journey.

Have a Vision

The starting point of every transformation toward a customer-centric company is a clear-cut vision. This provides the strategic direction where customers are seen as a key source of growth and at the center of corporate strategy development.

Anil Kumar SG, now founder and CEO of Samunnati, spoke of his journey as part of the founding team of the KGFS model at IFMR Trust.

“We set out to build a world class customer-centric organization. We did not use all those words, but all of us intuitively believed that what is good for the customer is good for business. Whether it is the CEO or a branch manager, the rule was very clear: the customer comes first.”

Question Your Assumptions about the Customer

Often as providers of financial services we make assumptions about what customers know, what they need, and that we have just the solution for them. However, thoroughly understanding customers – their needs, preferences, and motivations – is not a luxury, according to Maya Vengurlekar, COO of CRISIL Foundation; it is a necessity. In a customer-centric company, the leadership focuses its energy on a customer’s happiness and makes decisions with the customer in mind, she said.

Anil Gupta, Regional Manager-North for Aircel, emphasized that thorough client segmentation followed by targeted products and services are in fact what drive revenues for the telecom industry.

“We’ve been able to micro-segment the customer base to such an extent that we are now able to understand what the customer wants, when he wants it, and how he wants it. Client aspirations are also important. For example, we learned that within the middle-class customers, there is a group who is aspiring to be ‘high-end’ and want smart phones with high-end services of data much more than voice requirements.”

Spend Time on the Front Lines

Companies with a strong customer-centric culture typically have leaders who are not content to sit in their offices pouring over reports, but instead, are out on the “front lines” with their employees.

Invariably, all speakers agreed that the one thing that truly makes a difference for their companies is spending time on the front lines. They and their senior managers spend time with field staff, call agents, and cashiers observing or doing transactions directly and learning how customers choose and use their products and services. Some, such as the IFMR Trust, have taken it as far as having an immersion program for senior staff where they spend three weeks in the house of customers, in remote rural areas.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Customer-centric companies have cultures of innovation where motivated employees are focused on constantly improving the outcome for the customer. Core values explicitly recognize the value of the customer, reward customer-focused behavior and cultivate highly engaged employees.

Keeping an eye on the prize – focusing on the ultimate impact you want to create for your customer – is one strategy Maya Vengurlekar suggests. This ensures that a culture of customer centricity is integrated across the organization.

At Janalakshmi, management strives to put the right metrics in place, so that customer centricity becomes embedded in the daily work of all staff. It should be part of the company culture and not something staff sees as ‘extra’ or ‘special.’ To that end, the metrics for evaluating staff performance include metrics on customer satisfaction.

Leaders also shared challenges, especially related to integrating a customer-centric approach across all company functions and departments. Many companies today still operate with deep-rooted functional areas that work in isolation from each other. Brian Richardson, CEO of WIZZIT International, gives the example of compliance officers.

“Their role is important but they typically have never been in the shoes of an unbanked person. Sometimes they will block transactions of a recently opened account around pay day because customers don’t meet all the requirements as they interpret it. The chance of getting that customer back on board and confident is very low."

While, as one participant comments, “we are at the beginning of the customer centricity journey in financial inclusion – we don’t have pillars, we are still excavating,” leaders who have seen the positive results of focusing on the customer urge us: “Don’t postpone. Start early, because if you start early, the customer-centric approach gets into the DNA of the institution.”


17 July 2015 Submitted by ANKUSH KHANNA (not verified)

Customer centricity is the need of the hour -- not only for the companies but also for governments. The government schemes must revolve around the needs, aspirations and motivations of the target consumer/beneficiary and proper communication be made with the beneficiary/consumer at various stages -- from pre-launch to post-launch -- in order to ensure success of the scheme.

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