No matter where in the world you do business, the notion of customer centricity is present. Acting in customers' best interests for mutual benefit is a universal concept that has been around for as long as commerce has. Companies in Asia that choose to run a customer-focused business model face many of the same opportunities and challenges as those in the rest of the world. And as with the rest of the world, some companies "get it," and some don't.
The only difference for some Asian countries is the level of adoption of customer-focused culture within selected industries, and the level of success in transforming traditionally product-centric organizations into customer-centric ones.
Before going any further, it's important to note that there are really three "Asias" for business:
Mature markets. These are markets where customer centricity is more than a slogan. It's a business necessity. For companies in these economies, differentiation on products or pricing doesn't hold water anymore. The emphasis for many firms is on how to become more customer-focused and use insight to drive decisions that delight the customer at all levels. Countries include Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Emerging markets. These markets are on the rise in the region. They have so much potential. Emerging markets are similar in that they have large populations, stable political situations, and are open to innovation and investment. Countries include Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.
- China and India. They are markets unto themselves. They require local expertise and resources to make an impact there.
Each market, and each economy, has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. When it comes to customer centricity, however, emerging markets may ultimately have the advantage. Progressive companies in those markets are taking lessons from the mature economies and are building customer centricity into operations from the genesis of their organizations. Eventually, they may leapfrog over companies in mature markets to dominate the region.
How is customer centricity being applied overall in the region? Customer experience issues are now, more than ever, on the CxO agenda. More Chief Customer Officers are being hired, and their responsibilities to the overall business are growing. They are measuring client activity across all touchpoints holistically as a strategic, not tactical, priority.
I have observed the Asian landscape for many years, and only very recently have customer centricity and customer experience begun to be considered outside of the customer service context. Companies are thinking beyond traditional customer service ideas to understand that the customer experience is more encompassing—it involves every customer interaction, along with the processes, products, and people behind them. Customers seek those organizations that are clear about what they promise and then deliver this consistently in a way that is valuable to them.
Although customer centricity as a concept has been around for many years, most companies still have difficulty executing and delivering a delightful experience to their customers. The reality is that around the world, the term "customer centricity" is no more than a beautiful slogan. But it can play a critical role in companies' ability to differentiate. To make those two words more than just a catchy phrase, companies must figure out how to transform that vision into implementable actions that deliver on that promise.
Blending the old and the new
The objective is for the experience to exceed expectations and to appeal to the customer on an emotional level, turning him into an advocate. For most companies, this requires a major transformation across the entire enterprise to become customer-centric in all internal and external activities. It is a large undertaking, often requiring major investments in money, time, and resources. Yet many firms in Asia are quite conservative, based on their culture. They may be nonaggressive, take few risks, and enact change at a slow pace. Such a philosophy can be a detriment to customer-based strategy development.
Consumers today are extremely savvy about how they engage with providers and make decisions. They are changing their behavior, becoming more social, expecting more transparency, and going wherever the experience is best. If that's not recognized in a timely manner, then companies will lose out to competitors. Competition is so fierce and it has arrived in the region. This is very different from the past, and companies need to create a culture that adapts to this change quickly.
At the same time, not all companies subscribe to traditional conservatism. Some want to stand out and be seen as innovators. They take customer strategy to the next level with new products, services, and experiences designed to meet customer needs. Asia is a great example where the world has become flat. Competitors are coming from anywhere and consumers demand excellence.
Taking a customer-focused approach is a growing concern for Asian businesses, and success will depend on a fully developed plan that includes strategy, tactics, and metrics to maintain momentum. This plan looks different for each company, and is dependent on each firm's individual market and customer needs. In some cases it's a small initiative for a select customer group. In others, it's an enterprisewide change management transformation. But most importantly, it requires a leader with know-how to build the customer-centric case, commit personally, and lead others. The company, regardless of its market position, will succeed in the eyes of its customers with a dedication to customer centricity.