Why is everyone talking about customer closeness?

It used to be the case that if you had leaner manufacturing, made higher quality products­­ or had superior distribution, you would have a significant advantage over your competitors, but in a world of next-day delivery, price comparison websites and next-level experiential merchandising, sound operational capabilities are simply the cost of doing business.

The playing field of true competitive advantage has shifted away from operational capabilities towards customer centricity – a deep understanding of the needs of your shoppers and the ability to leverage that need to generate profit.

Insights teams have been trying for years to furnish their businesses with this information and yet most of us who work in client-side insight know all too well just how hard it is to tear people away from the day job to immerse themselves more fully in the shopper perspective.

Even the best PowerPoint debriefs can only take us so far.  They can help to give context and to deliver solid evidence, but they are no substitute for personal experience, and when it’s personal, it’s memorable.

If stakeholders leave debriefs without an intimate understanding of the issue and a clear grasp of next steps, then the onus is on the insight team to find new ways to communicate to make the story more compelling.

We’ve all seen a situation where the most carefully crafted and robust debrief fails to ignite change whilst meanwhile, the CEO sees a tweet, or talks to a shopper during a store visit and suddenly the whole team is galvanised into action on the thinnest of evidence.

To drive change, you need to connect stakeholders with real, human stories – it’s something charities have known for decades.  We all know that there is poverty and injustice in the world, but we are most likely to put our hands in our pockets when we see first-hand the story of someone actually struggling.  The story draws us in and makes us feel compelled to act in a way that simply knowing the statistics doesn’t.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review cited that “Your company is 50% more likely to over perform if it incorporates direct employee-customer connection at multiple stages of the planning process” *

This is what a good customer closeness programme can achieve – it can help to bust unhelpful myths about your shoppers, illuminate new and pressing issues and create a burning platform from which to drive transformational change and revenue growth.

However, it’s not just a case of setting up some viewed focus groups or cottoning on to the latest fashionable methodology (otherwise you can all too quickly end up in CEO tweet territory).  Like anything worthwhile, it depends on careful planning, on being conducted in the right context and on using best practice to ensure it achieves its goals

Done well, customer closeness tells the real and human shopper stories that galvanise action.  That’s why everyone is talking about it…
* Building an Insights Engine, Harvard Business Review 2016