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What does customer-centric really mean?

Published 22 Apr 2021 2 minute read

Strategic Thinking
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It’s one of the latest buzzwords, but it’s like teenage sex; all talk and no doing!

So what does customer-centric really mean and how do you know if you are, or if you’re just playing buzzword bingo?

Being aligned with and responding to customers current and future needs is a way of operating from the inside out, and, when done well, positively affects overall business performance over other operating models.

Research conducted by Charlie Dawson of The Foundation and Seán Meehan, Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management at Swiss business school IMD found that of over 450 senior executives that responded, 62.7% believe that understanding customers and acting on that understanding is critical to success. However, only 24% adopt a customer-led approach to running their business.

So if you aren’t customer-centric or being led by your customers' needs, then what are you? The answer tends to be efficiency-led, and such businesses and brands are common nowadays as companies seek out new strategies in response to tremors caused by Brexit, the global pandemic, social inequalities and the plight of our environment.

Fundamentally, at the heart of customer-centricity is the need for businesses and brands to look from the outside in. They must be able to empathise with their customers and target audiences, and walk in their shoes rather than just take a periodic look. Customer-centric organisations are those with leaders across all areas that immerse themselves with their customers regularly to get an innate understanding of their lives and struggles.

You might think that because I run a research agency that specialises in helping businesses understand the human condition, that I’m now going to tell you that doing some research is the answer.


Research goes some way to building empathy and understanding, but it needs to physically involve senior stakeholders, customer closeness programs, tracking studies and initiatives that put leaders in the shoes of their customers. Only when you stand with your customers can leaders perceive and truly understand their world in the most natural way.

Nor does the money you invest in customer research equate to being more customer-led, as it may not build empathy. Why? Because you may find some stakeholders blindsided by their personal bias.


Being customer-led, or customer-centric is an operating model, not an individual initiative or single program of work. It means getting up close and personal with your customers and staying there to the point that you see the world through their eyes. Customer-centricity is C-Suite -driven and all levels of your business should think and act this way.

Research is one element that needs to be addressed when moving to a more customer-centric model, but you need the appropriate skills and programs in place – often with the support of expert facilitators like our own, who assume the position of bastions of the customer’s view. Contact Us

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