Photo by Josh Hallet

Peter Kim, being Peter Kim, gave an outstanding keynote on the Forrester Conference theme, the Customer Centric Marketing Organization. Pete keeps it real by noting that there is frequently a reality gap between the words customer centric marketing and companies that actually are customer centric. A company needs to build their entire culture around customer advocacy to make this a reality. Forrester’s definition of customer advocacy Pete says is, " The perception that a firm does what’s best for the customer, not just what’s best for the bottom line."

The first step towards a culture of centricity is to accept the reality that you don’t own the Brand, the customer does. Although this has always been true, in a social media world, acceptance is a necessity. Peter highlighted several organizations as examples of customer centricity:

USAA tops the Forrester list as well as Business Week’s ranking of organizations that understand customer service.

Peter says that new hires are taught to understand military life; to be empathetic with the reality of their customer’s life. USAA sets policies that adapt to their customers’ needs versus the organization. For instance, the billing cycle at USAA revolves around the military pay cycle.  Service reps at USAA  are empowered to create solutions and encouraged to learn from customer contact.

Technology can make it easier to learn from customers. Organizations that view technology as a tool to learn from customers versus a threat will be the organizations that thrive in the social media world.

The organization that asks what they can learn from blog comments, for instance, versus the organization that asks, do we have to allow comments is the organization that understands customer centricity. Peter uses Del Monte as an example of a company that successfully mined the blogosphere for insights into their pet food business.

They created a private virtual community to communicate with their customers and then created new products based upon the insights. They have a facilitator who encourages dialogue within the community who meets with the DelMonte brand managers on a frequent basis to communicate insights. The community, Peter says is like a hearing aid for DelMonte to listen to the conversation. The technology that has given consumers a voice is used by DelMonte to listen to them.

 I must say however, that the fact that the DelMonte community is private suggests that they still have not given up the idea that they can control ownership of their brands. The customer is having a conversation about the DelMonte brands on line somewhere that is not a private community. Hint: Pet Food Recall.

Returning to Peter’s definition of customer advocacy being the perception that a company does what’s best for their customers versus what is best for the bottom line and contrast that with the message on the Del Monte website regarding the pet food recall, "DelMonte Pet Products voluntarily withdraws specific product codes of treats…."

This is a legal department centric message. Hopefully DelMonte will use their pet community to listen to what their customers have to say and connect with what the pet food recall meant to customers, not to the organization. As Peter noted  regarding USAA,  customer empathy is a cornerstone of customer centricity.

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