FEATURE8 April 2013

Insight at the top


Jeremy Rix meets the world’s first customer centricity officer, whose job is to make sure that consumer insights are identified, shared and acted upon throughout her organisation.


How has business changed, in terms of customer centricity, since your career began?
Amy Jones:
Old-world businesses used to see customer insight – what we can know and understand about customers – as a department. Typically, there’d be a team of people whose job it was to manage the gathering of customer insight, and then to land this into the organisation – as a set of business metrics designed to monitor brand, product or customer relationship health, and/or as a stimulus for business change.

We’ve moved from that model – where this team of experts sat outside of the operational elements of the business as a kind of add-on, managing external suppliers which delivered the insights – to a model where every single person in the business has a customer insight responsibility. The first thing I did when I arrived at Emolia was to make that clear.

Everyone here has a responsibility for gathering or analysing customer insight, or implementing insight-driven change. For a lot of people, it’s all three.

And you have a programme for skilling the organisation in order to deliver this?
Yes. We have a programme which we call SPI. It’s a bit of an in-joke at Emolia, as you could read it as though the programme is designed for us to ‘spy’ on our customers. But we see it the other way round. SPI is a way for the customer to spy on us.

There are three core elements to SPI:

  • The first is Skills. In order for every member of the business to take on their customer-centricity responsibilities, we need to ensure they are skilled to do this. So we have a programme of education around how to gather and interpret insights, and to innovate, develop action plans and implement changes. Everyone in this business is a researcher and is trained to do this properly. Whatever their role, each colleague has a customer insight objective as part of their professional development plan, and they are encouraged to see this as part of their core job, not an add-on. They are reviewed and bonused on these objectives, as well as the other objectives they have.
  • The second is Process. Customer insight is fully embedded into all of our processes, data is completely transparent…

Can you give me an example of that?
Well, we have what we call our Customer Command and Control Centre – a bit of a mouthful – which is a central monitoring system for bringing data into the organisation and maintaining the flow of relevant metrics and insights to each part of the business. Everyone has a dashboard, and this includes hard measures as well as qualitative data or direct customer feedback, on a continuous basis.

We have developed a neat feature for our R&D framework, whereby we create customer avatars which sit within the framework project management software and comment on ideas, activities and progress.

Using real customer feedback?
Yes, so an avatar will represent the target market. It will intervene, for example, if a project team begins to swerve away from the original customer insights. The avatar jumps up and says, ‘Hey! Aren’t you forgetting that this project was kicked off because of x, y and z!’

  • The third element is Inspiration. Honestly, if this isn’t in place, then the other two elements quickly fall apart…

Because it isn’t enough to ‘compel’ colleagues to be customer centric?
Right. You can force it into processes and professional development, but people will still try to swerve the key insights if they don’t ‘feel’ them. And so alongside inspiration, we also talk about entertainment. This has to be engaging and fun. It has to be about a positive mindset ? insight is there to help us be better, to do things right – not to stop us doing the things we want to do.

What form does this take?
We run a series of conferences and events, where we bring in inspirational speakers – experts on empathy, emotional connection with the brand, the use of insight – as well as individuals or businesses who have achieved great things through understanding the needs or problems of others. We also invite customers in to give talks about how our products and services positively impact on their lives. They tell us stories about how we make a difference, even if this is in the smallest way.

Alongside this, we have a long running TV series – it’s structured reality; a kind of soap, I suppose – in which we follow real customers’ lives. It has a huge following among colleagues. We take it very seriously. We have quality scripting and production and we weave storylines through it which are picked up on from the customer and market trend monitoring we do, so it’s all anchored in reality. It keeps the customer interesting in the minds of colleagues.

And what about the future?
More and more! More embedding of insights into every aspect of the business, more insight expertise in every job role and more inspiration and entertainment. It needs to be fresh, so we’re constantly evolving the way we do this – this internal/ external innovation is what drives our successful innovation as a business.

Amy Jones is a fictional character invented by Jeremy Rix, the founder and chief listener at Oko. He’s online at www.engageoko.com


11 years ago

"Skilling" will be a word in the future? Also, shouldn't this interview be in Chinese?

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11 years ago

I must admit I find the content a bit challenging and it might as well have been in Chinese

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11 years ago

Oh Jeremy, what a disappointment! I don't mean the article, I think it is great. I mean the fact that it is fiction - but could be close to a near future reality don't you think? My passion is people and helping organisations to optimise their customer understanding so they can build more profitable relationships and increase their return on their information investments. The fact that customer centricity is everyone's responsibility really resonated with me, but every company needs an inspiring leader to make it happen. This CCO job is one I have suggested for years and believe it is now only a matter of time. If there is one out there, then time to speak up and get noticed!

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