The ever-increasing necessity of a customer-centric business culture

February 2016

I recently read an excellent article in Marketing Week about Anthony Thomson and his new venture of setting up mobile-only Atom Bank (he previously founded Metro Bank). So not only will there be no physical branches, but account access will purely be through mobile devices.

To some, and certainly those that have grown up in the internet age and know no different, such a banking offer will make complete sense. Indeed, Thomson makes the point: “Opening a new bank today with branches on the high street would be like BT putting kiosks back on the high street.” Well you can’t argue with that, and it will also be interesting to see what happens to all the existing branches the banking giants have, as the majority become progressively redundant. (And they can’t all be turned into Wetherspoons pubs.)

But the standout piece from the article is Thomson’s assertions around putting his potential Atom Bank customers at the heart of business thinking. As an example, when he’s presented with a new idea or proposal on a system by IT or operations he asks: “Why are we doing this? Are we doing it to create a better customer experience or to be a more efficient business?” If the answer is only the latter, then he’ll question why it is even being considered.

The article was timely and resonated with me for two reasons: Firstly, I visited my local high street bank (Bank of Scotland) a few days back to pay in a cheque (I only have one client left who still pays by cheque – and I imagine that archaic procedure will soon come to an end) and having arrived at the door just after 9.00 am, found it didn’t open until 10.00. Returning at lunchtime wasn’t an option as they close for an hour then, and late afternoon was also not an option because the door would be closed at 4.00 pm sharp. Of course such arrangements suit the bank and its employees just fine, but customers? Patently not.

The second reason has nothing to do with banks, but a brand architecture proposal sent to me by a client to review and comment on. For background, the business is largely B2B, with the product offering including both manufactured and bought-in, though from a customer’s perspective it’s largely all the same. However, because of internal differences, certain management structures, geographical splits between different parts of the operation, plus a long-held culture that ‘we’re a manufacturer of product’, the level of enthusiasm and buy-in with all individuals to operate as a merchant to sell the bought-in products is not what it should be. So one of the management team was charged by the business owner to come up with a solution to the problem, and it was this proposal that I had in front of me. His solution? To retain the branded offer for the manufactured product, and create a new sub-branded offer for the bought-in product – even though, in the eyes of the customer, the function of the products was exactly the same.

Of course the proposal was ludicrous, because it had started from a position of ‘what suits us and our internal problems’. My response back, predictably, was to propose they start again and this time with a mind-set of what suited the customer the best – which would of course be one branded offer and containing both manufactured and bought-in products.

I’ve also proposed to the business owner (who in fairness is fairly customer-focused) that he takes steps to address the deep-seated cultural issues within his management team that resulted in such an inappropriate proposal. That’s going to be a long-haul job, but it needs to happen because we’re now in an age when a customer-centric business culture is fast becoming a necessity for survival, and those that do it best are the only ones that will truly flourish.

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