July 2015 | Bhaskar Bhat

In the centre of the circle

The customer is much more than a stakeholder - she is what the entire ecosystem of an organisation has to revolve around, says Bhaskar Bhat

It was not until the late 1990s that the business world realised that the customer of a company is not the property of the marketing department alone but is, in fact, the responsibility of the entire enterprise. Understanding the needs of this customer began becoming ever more vital from this point on.

Thus were born several popular phrases involving the customer. Customer centricity, customer focus, customer driven and customer orientation are terms commonly and interchangeably used by companies to describe their attitude toward this critical stakeholder.

The customer is outside the ecosystem of a company when transacting with that company, and therefore can best be described as a unique stakeholder whom all other stakeholders — shareholders, employees, lenders, business associates and partners — want to indulge because their own wellbeing is shaped by her.

While corporations may vary in their prioritisation of the stakeholders with whom they interface, it is the customer who enables us to stay relevant. Therefore, there is a need for the entire ecosystem in the company to orient itself towards her, to put this person at the centre.

There is sufficient evidence to show that the greater the organisational orientation towards the customer, the greater is the company’s long-term prosperity and sustainability. Companies that come to mind in the context are Singapore Airlines, Walt Disney & Co, McDonalds and, closer home, Amul and Asian Paints.

Achieving a strong organisational orientation towards the customer requires, among a host of things, at least the following practices within the company:

The presence of robust processes to continuously listen to customers and track their articulated and latent needs and aspirations. The development of products and services, advertising, channels of distribution, pricing, etc are the expected outcomes of such processes.

Organisations providing high levels of satisfaction to their customer-facing people (employees as well as partners), and thereby achieving customer loyalty.

An obsession within the organisation to explore innovative ways to delight customers.

The emergence of services as a significant sector in emerging economies has also brought welcome changes to customer practices in traditional companies. This has ushered in the understanding that closing the entire circle — from communication to buying experience to usage experience to after sales — needs equal attention from the organisation. Nothing can be left to chance.

The recent explosion in and ease of communications through mobiles and the internet have brought both challenges and opportunities to companies. In this new world order of business, the ecosystem of a corporation will not be a mere circle but a digital cum brick-and-mortar sphere. In both these realms the customer will reign supreme.

Bhaskar Bhat is the managing director of Titan Company

This is part of the cover story about the customer-centricity culture of the Tata group featured in the July 2015 issue of Tata Review:
Chairman's message on customer centricity at Tata
Read all the articles, and more, in Tata Review
Harish Bhat: It's in the culture
Dr Ralf Speth: Designed to delight
R Mukundan: A new equation begins to bloom
Jaguar Land Rover: Who's at the wheel?
Titan Company: Substance in the style
Tata Motors: In for the long drive
Tata Motors: A healthy obsession
Tata Global Beverages: The connection is tasty
Tata Chemicals: Bridges are for building
Tata Power: Generating affection, too
Tata Communications: A telecom tune to hum
Rallis: Reaping the good wind
Tata Sky: The signals are clear
Jusco: An operation apart
Tata Steel: Bonds made of steel