Customer closeness: Clarity begins at home


We believe that in today’s world you need to put consumers at the centre of everything you do in order to stay competitive.  But we also believe that it’s not enough to be close to consumers’ needs and aspirations, you also need to be clear about who you want to be in their lives, i.e. your company purpose.

Much of the work we do is focused on spreading consumer understanding beyond the Insight department so that everyone in the business builds strong consumer instinct on which to base their business decisions.

Unlike ad hoc research projects which tend to have a narrower focus relating to specific issues they are trying to address, many ‘consumer instinct’-building activities are broader in focus e.g. What do consumers want in this market? Who meets their needs well? Who doesn’t? What are their perceptions of us? How could we deliver against their needs better?

Consumers are only too ready to open up and tell you what they expect and desire. Hearing those consumer views live and direct is powerful and persuasive – often accelerating teams into action. The challenge is that different consumers sometimes want different things, and staff can be left convinced they need somehow to create an offer which is all things to all people. You only have to watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares once to know that’s not a recipe for success – an over-complicated offer, soaring costs, half-baked products, slow service and complaining customers as a result. So how do you help staff prioritise what they hear?

This is where sense of self is critical. If the brand’s purpose in consumers’ lives is clear and central to the way staff think, it means they are better equipped to filter what they hear. It’s less about the general ‘what do consumers want?’ and more about ‘we’re about being the cheapest/most maverick/most trusted brand in this market. What is the most compelling form of ‘cheap/maverick/trust’ we can deliver?

Here’s an example to illustrate the point. Nissan recently invited owners of models from across its range from the UK, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany to a gathering of their top 250 European managers in Lisbon.

The aim? To hear first-hand what those owners thought of the Nissan customer experience.

Nissan’ purpose is to be the no 1 trusted Asian brand in Europe who make ‘innovation and excitement accessible to everyone’. Whilst Nissan owners had wide-ranging views and experiences to share, staff were particularly listening for signs of success and clues on how to strengthen their delivery of trust, innovation and excitement for drivers with all types of driving needs and budgets. Having a clear framework within which to interpret what they heard meant the take-outs were clearer, there was more commonality on the key issues and more applicable to business direction.

In Customer Closeness activity, lots of time is invested in finding consumers with the right profile, right attitudes and behaviours to have rich and interesting conversations. We would argue that more time needs to be invested inside the organization when scoping activity and briefing staff to ensure that everyone is clear on how they should be listening to what they hear. The key to clarity is counter-intuitive – businesses need to know who they want to be to customers, if they are to get true value out of knowing who their customers are too.


Charlotte Vicary is a Caffeine Associate & Founder and Director of The Customer Closeness Company at The Customer Closeness Company

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