An Agile approach to customer-centricity is more important than ever

By Claudia Pellegrino, Andy Hughes

Our research shows the most profitable businesses are those that are customer-centric – they excel at co-creating with, and listening to, consumers. This lets them quickly evolve products and services to meet rapidly changing needs, a trait that’s been essential to resilience through the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re now living in a world where consumers behave differently, acting in a much more purposeful manner with increased emphasis on tailored experiences and digital and physical safety, rather than mere material consumption. As we settle into this new normal, businesses’ ability to adapt to emerging customer needs will be key. So, what can organisations learn from the customer-centric champions that shone through the pandemic’s first phase?

Co-create products and services with customers

Constantly evolving government responses to COVID-19 forced customers to experiment and adapt. As these changes consolidate into a new reality, people are learning how to live differently. To meet the new needs that come with these changes, it’s essential to find new ways to engage with customers and collaboratively develop products and services with them. In a world where maintaining distance is paramount, that means:

  • Implementing collaborative design initiatives, like digital journey mapping exercises.
  • Treating the market as the best testing ground by inviting early adopters to interact with prototypes.
  • Speaking with customers regularly to gain qualitative feedback through digital channels.

Lego® Group shows the benefits co-creation can bring. The Lego® IDEAS platform lets anyone create, submit and discuss concepts for Lego® sets. Lego® designers curate the ideas and progress the best towards launch. And those that come up with successful designs get a share of the profit. More recently, the group and its foundation launched Let’s Build Together. It lets people upload the games they’re coming up with while staying at home, opening opportunities for Lego® to support its community during lockdown and providing the company with a strong view of how people use its products to learn and have fun.

This customer-centricity has no doubt contributed to the company’s success during the pandemic, where consumer sales grew 14 per cent in the first half of 2020. The insight gathered will also be invaluable for future products innovation and tailoring.

Seek regular feedback from customers before and after launch

The shift in the consumer landscape that COVID-19 has caused has created a new challenge for product and service designers – there’s an unprecedented need for innovation, but little knowledge of new consumer desires. Organisations need to build detailed, accurate and up to date pictures of their customers to make decisions confidently. And that means they need to seek regular feedback.

A feedback-driven approach tells business leaders if their efforts are impacting customers as intended and informs decisions about iterating products and services to better meet customer needs. With COVID-19 accelerating the shift online, organisations must improve how they seek feedback from customers by:

  • Launching and improving digital products with intelligent and iterative release strategies.
  • Using multiple testing strategies, such as multi-variant, A/B testing and feature toggles, to maximise customer feedback and validate business-centric hypotheses.
  • Monitoring operations more scientifically to ensure there are enough experiments running and that they’re gathering enough data.

As the impact of COVID-19 on the economy became clear, Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for their support and advice. To support as many people as possible, they used website analytics to pinpoint which resources customers were accessing, so they could quickly shape and launch and early version of their COVID-19 advice page. Then, Shelter analysed feedback on the new content and UX design and iterated the page accordingly. For instance, when users wanted advice on how to negotiate, Shelter responded by creating a template letter people could edit online. Shelter have successfully handled a 45 per cent increase in unique page views, with over 1.5 million hits on their dedicated COVID-19 advice page since March.

Continuously re-prioritise based on customer needs

Customer preferences are evolving faster than ever in the face of COVID-19. To retain customers, organisations need to evolve their products and services equally quickly. Many are already sitting on a mountain of data that can help uncover changing customer behaviours, they just need smarter ways to mine insights from it, such as:

  • Identifying early indicators of change so teams can see more subtle trends early and react.
  • Establishing fast cycles of experimentation to re-prioritise products and services, using technology to simplify data collection and analysis.
  • Investing in understanding the wider environment regularly to move beyond rigid long-term plans.

For instance, Zara’s ability to reprioritise based on data has driven incredible success. The company uses Radio Frequency Identification technology in its stores to track the location of items of clothing instantly, get data about customers’ preferences, and make those most in demand more available quickly. After weathering the initial fall in demand at the start of lockdown, Zara’s highly flexible inventory system identified a trend towards people buying more home-wear, so they made more available. They swiftly adapted their inventories to new customer needs, recording 74 per cent growth in their online channel during the first half of 2020 and a €214 million net profit during the depths of the lockdown in the second quarter of the year.

The future is bright for customer-centric organisations

In a time of crisis, we can’t forget customers. Putting your customer at the centre of your operation is still key to success. New personas are emerging every day, and the companies that will be successful are the ones that can understand, shape and serve these changing needs and desires.

About the authors

Claudia Pellegrino PA business design expert
Andy Hughes PA product-led transformation expert

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