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Christoph Niewerth Board, Germany – Hays Recruiting Experts Worldwide

None of us asked for the iPhone. Just 20 years ago, we were all happy using our mobile phones simply to make calls and send text messages, blissfully unaware of their untapped potential. Fast forward to the present day, and the smartphone is now integral to the functioning of our day-to-day lives.

Apple did what all long-standing, successful businesses should do: they anticipated what we, the customer, would want and need before we even realised it ourselves. It was, after all, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who famously advised businesses to “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.” He understood that for a business to be truly customer-centric, it must anticipate, rather than simply react to, customer needs.

As the world digitalises, the customer has more power than ever before


Of course, anticipating what your customer wants, and ensuring they are at the heart of your business is nothing new. But many, including myself, would argue that this has never been more important than it is in today’s world.

Why is this? Because rapid digital innovations are transforming the customer experience and raising their expectations, from the way they bank, to the way they book their holidays and feed their families. Customers in today’s world expect a personalised, quick service. And, because they have an endless amount of information and choice at their fingertips, they are more powerful than ever before.

Those businesses that ignore the powerful force of today’s customer do so at their peril. In fact, Deloitte has estimated that as many as half of the S&P 500 firms would be replaced by 2027 as a result of companies failing to adapt to digital disruptors.

To guarantee long-term prosperity, businesses must be relentless in keeping a watchful eye on customer behaviours and, importantly, use these observations to shape their entire business strategy, from the products they bring to market, to the people they hire and the way that they lead their employees.

Customer centricity must be driven from the top


For a customer-centred culture to flourish, it must be driven from the top by the most influential people within the business. In the not too distant past, leaders were often kept at a distance from the customer by hierarchical structures. This trend has now been reversed, with many c-suite level executives routinely going out of their way to personally interact with customers. Such is the importance of fulfilling the needs of an empowered customer to the present-day businesses, it has started to alter the very nature of c-suite roles, even leading to the creation of new ones.

For instance, the technology function of a business was once seen as supportive, but now, as a result of digital transformation driving a focus on customer experience, we are seeing the traditional role of the CIO being given a new customer centric focus. IBM, for example, say CIOs are increasingly focusing more on customer engagement. This then trickles down to positively impact the entire organisation, which could be why 80 per cent of the line-of-business executives view CIOs as top digital leader and influencer of a company’s senior leadership. Not only that, but 22 per cent of Fortune 100 companies have now adopted the role of Chief Customer Officer whose focus is to develop relationships with customers in order to understand them and their needs.

However, Jay Galbraith, author of “Designing the Customer-Centric Organisation” warns of “a cosmetic gloss of customer focus.” He outlines that companies must go a step further to instil customer-centric behaviours within their leaders and ensure that they reverberate within the wider business.

How can leaders and the wider business become more customer focused?

  • Leaders must actively get closer to the end-customer

For many leaders, the customer is so far removed from their day-to-day lives that it can be hard for them to really understand and appreciate their evolving needs. As our CEO Alistair Cox outlines in his recent blog,  “The people we’re impacting can also feel like a world away, and often they are.”

Some businesses will therefore put their leaders directly in front of the customer, be it on social media or in the call centre. At Zappos, for instance, all employees including leaders are required to work in their customer service contact centre, and Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, famously responds directly to customer enquiries on Twitter. But most will hold weekly meetings with customer-facing teams and ask them for one key lesson they’ve learned about the customer. Others will spend time being reverse-mentored by such teams.

The key is that your leaders take practical steps to bridge this gap and get a better understanding of the people driving your business, be it directly or via more customer-facing teams.

  • Leaders – set values that resonate with your customers

Company values are becoming increasingly important to the customer. In fact, according to Forrester research, 70 per cent of millennials and 52 per cent of baby boomers will factor in a company’s values when making a purchasing decision. So, what do your customers value, and how closely do your company values align?

An article written by the CEO of Survey Monkey, Zander Lurie, provides an example of this. Survey Monkey’s business model is reliant on customer curiosity, hence the need to use a surveying tool. Therefore, Lurie took steps to drive forward the value of curiosity among employees, and, as a result, the company’s mission is: “Power curious individuals and organisations to measure, benchmark, and act on the opinions that drive success.”

What do your customers value, and why is it important to them? Once these customer-centric values are established, you and your leaders must embed these into the very fabric of your organisation so that they provide a basis or “true north” for how your business operates. For this to really take hold middle management is your most powerful tool, which takes me to my next point.

Middle management can be change agents in building a customer centric culture


Middle management will always be key to successfully implementing change within any business because they are the most connected to the more junior team members. In fact, Stanford University lecturer Behnam Tabrizi studied innovation efforts in 56 randomly selected companies and found the successful 32 per cent involved mid-level managers.

It goes without saying, then, that middle management should be the change agents for communicating and role modelling customer centric behaviour to other areas of the business. Below are just some customer-centric behaviours, you, as their leaders should encourage them to adopt:

1. Empower teams to offer the best service

Firstly, middle managers should train and empower teams to live your customer-centric values while also giving them the level of autonomy needed to put the customer first. A good example of this in action is Four Seasons Hotels, where staff are told “Do whatever you think is right when servicing the customer.” This, combined with the right practical tools and training, will enable employees to feel trusted, empowered, and able to use their better judgement to provide a more personalised service to your customers.

2. Reward customer centricity

Secondly, middle managers should measure employee performance against customer satisfaction, and KPIs, rewards and incentives should be based on customer centricity. What’s more, these rewards could even reflect the customer experience. For instance, Fidelity send their best customer ambassadors to the Disney Institute for three days, which includes a behind the scenes tour to see how Disney delivers optimum customer experiences.

3. Hire for customer centricity

Lastly, when people are hired within your business, be it a leader, a middle manager or a junior employee, it should be best practice for them to be partly hired based on their demonstrable customer-centric behaviours, such as hiring those that enjoy helping others and those who listen in order to understand the problem.

Middle managers should be made aware of which behaviours and experiences to look for on a CV and frame interview questions in such a way as to offer an opportunity to exhibit these. They should also act as ambassadors for your customer-centric values during the interview process, describing how the company aligns itself with the customer and puts them first.

For your business to really thrive, your customer must always be at its core. The customer must drive everything you do and every decision you make. And, if you for one moment forget your customer, it’s more than likely that one day, and probably sooner rather than later, they will forget your business.


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After completing his degree as a qualified industrial engineer, Christoph Niewerth joined Ascena (former Hays) as an account manager in 1999. After progressing to department manager, he later became a divisional and branch manager. In 2008 he was appointed Director of Contracting.

In January 2012, Mr. Niewerth joined the Board of Directors and was appointed Chief Operating Officer. He is responsible for the Sales specialisms IT, Finance, Legal, Retail and Sales & Marketing in Germany as well as the company’s affiliates in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Russia. He is also responsible for Talent Solutions, public affairs and strategic customer development.





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