July 2014 | 

Putting the Customer First: The Real Word on Customer Centricity

Putting the Customer First

Many companies claim to be customer-centric. But according to Wharton marketing professor and co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative Peter Fader, they’re often getting it wrong. “It’s not ‘the customer is always right,’” he explains. “Customer centricity says, ‘the right customer is right.’”

But figuring who those customers are and knowing what to do for them once they’ve been identified isn’t straightforward. Starbucks, Costco, and even Nordstrom aren’t customer centric, says Fader. “Customer centricity is not a philosophy. It can’t be fostered through a company handbook or mission statement. Customer centricity is a strategy to fundamentally align a company’s products and services with the wants and needs of its most valuable customers. And that strategy has a specific aim: more profits for the long term.”

Fader has worked with companies such as Google to build more customer-centric strategies, and is now teaching executives how it can work in their companies in Strategic Value of Customer Relationships (SVC).The dynamic and highly interactive program isn’t taught from a textbook. “SVC is an eight-week conversation in which we build relationships and engage with real-time content. We talk about what is going on in the world, in the news. When a company makes headlines for some reason, we discuss how they might address their problems using customer centricity. So we’re building on our learning through the conversation.”

Using an innovative online platform that includes live discussion forums, live and recorded lectures, virtual office hours, online classroom discussions, and group projects, SVC brings together a group of learners whose diversity is unparalleled. They come from around the world, in different industries, in various roles and at various levels within their organizations, and they have each identified a specific business challenge that could benefit from customer centricity.

Manuel Santiago, a learning and development professional employed by a Fortune 500 company, notes, “I was excited to participate in Strategic Value of Customer Relationships, both because the subject matter is relevant to my current position and because it was offered online. The value of the program is immeasurable. We live in a very competitive environment, and we have to rethink the way we look at our customers. The program got me thinking about the customer relationship in a different way. It has already made a difference in my current job.”

Santiago says since he received his MBA he has continued to seek out opportunities to update his knowledge and skills. Finding the time to attend classroom-based programs, however, isn’t easy. “Online learning is easier to fit into my schedule, it is cost effective, and you can get the knowledge you need more quickly. With the growth of learning technologies, it makes sense that we should avail ourselves of these opportunities.”

Because customer centricity is still evolving, and its strategic importance is growing, Fader says the online platform is ideal.  “I want to get the message out to many people, and involve them in the conversation. In this new hyper-competitive landscape, you have to do more than just meet your best customers’ needs, you have to delight them. Since the first running of the program, my views and understanding of customer centricity are far deeper and more comprehensive, and many of the executives who attended have reached out to tell me what an influence the program has had on their organizations. They want to further their learning and stay on top of this evolving subject as well.”

Santiago agrees that offering the program online is beneficial. “Wharton is leading the way in terms of executive learning, and providing a program that is as rigorous as a classroom experience with the convenience of the online format is one way they’re doing that. I look forward to attending more online programs with Wharton in the future.”