Real digital innovation is about ‘customer centricity’

By James Brett and Angus Dorney >>

THE CORPORATE WORLD is littered with buzzwords. From ‘agile omni-channel gamechangers’ to ‘disruptive synergies’. These words might have meant something once, but now they’re just empty syllables – the junk food of enterprise vocabulary.

But there’s one phrase fast approaching buzzword status —and we shouldn’t let it because it’s far too important: customer centricity.

Customer centricity is deceptively simple. It basically means genuinely caring about your customers and their needs. It denotes a belief that nurturing a customer will nurture your business. 

Importantly, it’s about more than just creating flashy experiences that look great but are ultimately shallow. True customer centricity is about providing solutions that solve real problems and improve your customer’s quality of life.  

When done well, it drives the kind of fierce customer loyalty and goodwill that can insulate an organisation from a thousand shocks and drive profits that others envy.


Despite its apparent simplicity, customer centricity is particularly difficult to achieve in large enterprises.

In many of these organisations, cultures, processes and legacy technologies designed with a transactional – or even exploitational – view of the customer have dominated.

In these cases, the problem is usually compounded by executive leadership – who drive and maintain the entirely wrong types of corporate culture. 

Consider the fallout from the recent Royal Commissions into Aged Care, Financial Services, and Disability. Many of the organisations delivering mea culpas now, delivered media releases in the past trumpeting their ‘customer-obsession’ and ‘customer-centricity’.  

At its core, customer centricity in an enterprise requires innovation. When your key considerations are shareholders and financial metrics, it’s impossible to innovate. This is because true transformation and customer-centricity are long-term strategies, they are an unwinding of bad habits and a nurturing of good ones.

This is particularly challenging for large organisations where it’s difficult to determine what to fix first and how to do it fast enough to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of the customer and increasing competition. 


So how have these institutions been able to last so long if serving the needs of their customers hasn’t been their core reason for being?

Historically, the reason enterprises have ignored the needs of the customer is because executive leadership has been incentivised to do so.

With their remuneration tied solely to financial metrics and, by extension, short-term financial goals, customer needs have been a distant second to investor returns.

Suncorp is a perfect case of the short-term aims of shareholders trumping the long-term strategy of improving the customer experience.

Former chief Michael Cameron, and Microsoft Australia’s one-time managing director Pip Marlow, wanted to make Suncorp more customer-centric and turn the bank into the ‘Amazon of Financial Services’.

Disgruntled investors killed the plan off when it didn’t immediately generate revenue and now Suncorp will return to its core business of banking and insurance.


We’re currently facing an age of customer disloyalty, and so we should be. What looks like ‘disloyalty’ to a business, is actually the customer searching for products and services that offer them real value.

There is now more choice than ever before and finding the alternatives has never been easier.

Despite this, most incumbents seem to think they’re too big to fail – if their lack of action on serious customer-centric innovation is any indication.

True innovation has to be tied to the needs and desires of the customer. It isn’t easy. Sometimes it involves turning your back on the historical sacred cows of your business – such as when Netflix jettisoned its mail order DVD business to pursue video streaming.  

Simply increasing the efficiency of existing business lines isn’t customer centric. Offshoring thousands of roles to Bangalore or the Philippines isn’t innovation. All it does is squeeze more revenue from an existing offering, so to call it anything other than ‘shareholder centric’ is a sham.

Business leaders need to bring their investors on board and champion an embrace of true customer-centricity – and they need to do it now.

Start-ups are already disrupting previously untouchable industries like financial services and insurance (FSI), telecommunications and energy.

They’re succeeding because, for them, customer-centricity is not just a buzzword.


About the authors

James Brett is a leading CTO, digital strategist and author, having led digital transformations for some of Australia's largest and best-known brands. Angus Dorney is co-CEO of digital product engineering firm, Kablamo, a team of Australian specialists who led the digital transformations of Australia's largest media organisations, and are now bringing that expertise to enterprise IT. 

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