How CMOs can put customers front and centre

QSR International’s Tim Lyons explains the role of leadership in driving customer centricity.

Moving to true customer centricity is one of the most significant change projects a business can undertake. It requires the right people, processes and technology to know and meet customer needs right from the awareness stage through to advocacy.

Tim Lyons is Chief Marketing Officer at QSR International, a qualitative research software developer. In past roles he managed mergers and acquisitions, and it’s this experience that has helped him understand the importance of the people aspect of the change-management equation.

[caption id="attachment_1568" align="alignleft" width="300"]Tim Lyons CMO QSR International B2B marketing Marketorium QSR International's CMO Tim Lyons[/caption]

“What you’re acquiring, along with all the goodness of the company, such as the product and the IP, are the people,” Lyons says.

“There is absolutely no guarantee that company is going to gel with the acquiring side. Planning for either cultural assimilation or cultural cooperation shouldn't be underestimated. But often it plays second fiddle to the commercial outcomes of an acquisition.”

More recently, QSR International has experienced the broader cultural shift from a product-focused team to a customer-centric organisation.

As with M&A change projects Lyons worked on, he has found culture can’t be ignored. “From my perspective, regardless of what the project is or whether it’s commercial or internal, culture is going to be influenced or be influential,” he says.

“The idea of any change-management project is to onboard many people who are cognisant of the change that you’re trying to make. And it's likely to drag with negative sentiment if you're not paying attention to how the organisation actually works.”

Laying down the customer-centric roadmap

Leading a cultural change to move to customer centricity starts at the personal level – step one is changing your thinking.

“The traditional role of a marketing organisation has fundamentally changed,” Lyons says. Now, more than ever, marketers can’t assume “the way we’ve always done it” is an approach that will cut it.

"It would be very naive of us to assume that all our customers are homogeneous – that they look the same," he says. "We do need to acknowledge that our customers, as groups or as individuals, are unique and have an expectation of being treated in a particular way."

In addition to knowing customers as individuals, leading a change-management project means that you can’t assume how your organisation will react internally.

Lyons says too many organisations ignore internal communications at the start of change projects. Usual avenues of communication may leave some people in the dark about the project and the aims of the change, and organisations need to move beyond assumptions about preferred methods of communication.

“Making assumptions on how people will react, or how cultures are going to change, is likely to upset you at some point and make it difficult to conclude these projects,” he says.

“Anything that looks like an overnight cultural success is going to be years in the making.”

While business leaders are vital components to changing an organisation's culture, junior members of staff can have more influence than you first realise. They should be part of a group selected to champion change at all levels and across departments.

“Don't assume hierarchy is the answer to this,” Lyons says. “If you look at the organisation I work in, we have a lot of developers and technically oriented people. There are different comfort levels about the communication side of things among these people.

"We have people at different levels who are more than likely to be the go-to people to represent the thoughts and needs of their colleagues to a management group or in a larger town hall meeting.”

The second step in a successful change project of a shift to customer-centricity is to over-plan.

While it will seem over-planning would inhibit an organisation’s ability to react with agility, Lyons believes the opposite – having a plan in place for anything that can go wrong ensures you can respond quickly.

“For well-executed cultural change, you need to plan for everything – positive and negative – and hope that a lot of that doesn't come out of the woodwork,” he says. “You need to plan your reactions, reaction time and processes.”

When you plan to this level of detail, everyone involved is forced to move past disingenuous lip-service. It ensures your executives and change champions use the same methods with a common goal.

Skills and qualities that influence customer-centricity

Change management and cultural change are not cases of “do as I say and not as I do”. That means those enacting change have to bring certain skills with them. In the case of customer-centricity, a marketer’s toolkit has to be much more data-oriented.

“You need to understand exactly what your customers are telling you,” Lyons says. “Your analytics arm becomes important to allow you to understand what your customer is saying and what changes are required, and to pivot quickly. Otherwise, you potentially have a brand-equity problem and you certainly have a vote-with-your-feet problem.”

Using data in customer-centric organisations allows for better measurement and financial accountability. It usually means marketers have the opportunity to broaden their skills and experience, too; data specialists are a luxury many businesses can’t afford to have.

“Return on investment and the value of a marketing organisation has traditionally, and very jokingly in some circles, been very difficult to prove,” Lyons says.

“Now it becomes very clear what marketing is contributing to an organisation. You've started to look at metrics that are very customer-oriented – lifetime value of customers, attrition rates, retention rates and onboarding scenarios.

“Your marketing leader needs to have a much wider purview and a wider experience fit, because the work, especially around growth and change, necessitates a non-traditional approach to your career.”

In particular, Lyons says marketing leaders looking to evolve their organisations have to sell a vision of what cultural change will look like. This is primarily because metrics that measure the internal influence of a change project tend to be softer and slow moving. Marketers should be looking for increased engagement, positive sentiment, an increase in people within the business who can articulate the business goals and how they relate to “how we do things around here”.

“Anything that looks like an overnight cultural success is going to be years in the making,” Lyons says. “While we might celebrate the case study, the reality is that the organisation has gone through many, many iterations of change to get to that point.”

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Further reading: How much do you really care about your customers?

Photo: Tim Gouw on Unsplash