Overcoming The Challenges Of The Customer-Centric Operating Model

18 Feb 2022

In a world where disruptive practices can shift into entirely new business models, brands that can’t figure out how to close the gap between their operations and their customers face irrelevance. As a result, a customer-centric operating model has become the aspiration for many – but while highly optimised communications and media can help form relevant connections with consumers, there are a number of challenges to implementing this kind of transformation effectively. 

Faced with the pressure of limited C-suite buy-in - and the expectation to deliver high returns on marketing investments despite continuing budget cuts - the success of a customer-centric operating model depends on pre-empting and mitigating against potential roadblocks. 

What is a customer-centric operating model? 

At its core, a customer-centric operating model organises and structures its people, processes, partners and platforms around the customer experience. Achieving this requires a firm grasp of the role and purpose of the marketing function within the wider organisation, as well as a clear vision of what customer needs and behaviours are, and how marketing needs to be structured in order to adapt to them. 

The challenges of customer-centric marketing…

As with any marketing transformation, there are numerous challenges to effectively implement customer-centric operating models. Holistic buy-in is necessary at all levels of the organisation, as are unified workflows, structured to draw on overarching audience insight and data. 

1. Fragmented resources, & inadequate stakeholder engagement

A customer-centric operating model requires the unification of everything from media and comms to product development and digital experience. The resources that enable omni-channel experiences often sit across different teams and functions, and without strong stakeholder buy-in and engagement, drawing these together effectively can be impossible. 

It can be particularly difficult for a CMO or senior marketer to control resources (and budgets) that aren’t directly within their remit, and over which they have, at best, only minimal influence. Among both internal teams and external partners, there will be distinct cultures, ways of working, languages, roadmaps, relationships and priorities to navigate, and this fragmentation can make it hard to embed a cohesive customer-centric structure. 

The Solution: 

Obtaining the necessary buy-in from senior stakeholders - including those outside of marketing - can be something of a fine art, and not something for which there is a quick fix. However, well-crafted internal comms painting the vision and business case for data-driven marketing will set you on the right path, and are a crucial first step to enable and empower this necessary transformation.  

While this process will be different for every organisation, it often starts with an understanding of how to convince stakeholders of the validity of this kind of operational change. By guiding them on a journey through what your marketing is trying to achieve for the wider organisation, you can help them to understand how their support will facilitate it. 

2. Holistic audience planning

Particularly for larger organisations, the success of customer-centric operations lies in the ability to holistically operate audience planning across channels. But for many businesses, audience data and planning for functions such as paid media or communications sit under different suppliers and on different platforms. As a result, it becomes difficult to do anything close to holistic customer segmentation and targeting, and to marry this up across different disciplines  such as customer comms and paid media.

The Solution: 

With the customer at the heart of operations, organisations must ensure that their marketing has the tools and processes in place to map audience segmentation and targeting against the ‘big picture’. A capability, process and set of metrics should sit above the individual teams and agencies involved - enabling audience planning to operate holistically against the same core metrics. 

3. Effective internal change management

It’s a common assumption that the right tools, platforms and processes will solve all of your problems. With any marketing transformation, it’s not enough to simply identify and introduce new tools - if you don't pay enough attention to the people using them, you will miss out on the results you want to see. 

The Solution: 

At the heart of customer-centric operations is a focus on people, their feelings, and their behaviours. This needs to extend internally, too. The human side of change management around teams and individuals is crucial, and it’s important to take the time to reflect on feelings and behaviour. Thinking more deeply about individuals’ attitudes to change - and how to engage with and influence working practises - can make all the difference.  

This is also a continuous process. Customer-centric transformation is never “finished” at launch, and requires a commitment to ongoing development and management. Embracing failure and creativity in every aspect of operations is vital, as is effective ongoing communication about why and how the transformation has taken place, and the impact it is having on your customers and your organisation.

Final Thoughts

It would be overly simplistic to suggest that the three issues above are the only elements  to successful customer-centric transformation, but we believe they do form the core of where most challenges lie. 

Ultimately, any marketing transformation succeeds or fails on how well it is designed and implemented. The right choice of people, processes, platforms and partners is fundamental, but how effectively they’re managed and nurtured during the transformation - and beyond - will determine whether a brand is able to truly put the customer at the heart of its marketing operations.

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