Redefine What Customer-Centricity Means for Service and Support


Executives often implement organization-wide customer-centric strategies with the goal of enhancing the customer experience and increasing revenue through customer retention and growth. Functional leaders, including those in customer service and support, are frequently tasked with aligning their departments with these overarching customer-centric strategies.

However, defining what customer centricity means within their function is particularly challenging because typically customers do not purchase products or services with the intention of interacting with the customer service and support team. This therefore, develops a service strategy that is truly customer-centric, which can be problematic.

To lead their function and drive the enterprise toward a truly customer-centric approach, customer service and support leaders must adopt a new definition for customer centricity in service and support. This new approach supports enterprise goals while elevating customer service as the key strategic partner for enterprise customer-centricity.

Many organizations leverage a similar definition of customer centricity, placing the customer at the center of strategic decision-making. Typically, this involves designing consistent product and service experiences tailored to customers' needs, aiming to secure their loyalty and future spending.

To support enterprise-wide customer-centricity, each function must interpret the enterprise definition in its own context and develop specific strategies to achieve these shared outcomes. For customer service and support leaders, this presents a unique challenge. Customers typically will only interact with the customer service and support team when they encounter an issue that prevents them from fully using and extracting value from their purchases. From this perspective, the service experience itself is not inherently customer-centric.

To effectively support enterprise-wide efforts, customer service and support leaders should adopt a customer-centric strategy and operating model that focuses on minimizing customers' needs to interact with the service function. When interaction is unavoidable, the team must concentrate on delivering a seamless and high-value experience that swiftly resolves issues, allowing customers to resume product usage promptly. This approach ensures that while the time spent in service journeys decreases, the overall value experienced by customers increases.

While this new interpretation emphasizes the need to minimize the role of customer service and support within the customer experience, the service function itself must take a leading role in driving enterprise customer-centricity. They must use their insights to guide other functions in designing products and experiences that not only meet customer expectations but also minimize the need for value-eroding service interactions.

How to Create A Customer-Centric Service and Support Strategy

Customer service and support leaders seeking to define themselves as customer-centric must embrace the following three strategic priorities to deliver outcomes that align with customer demand and support in enterprise-wide customer-centricity efforts:

  1. Prioritize the removal of unnecessary service interactions.
  2. Provide effortless service journeys to enable customers to quickly return to the product.
  3. Make reactive service value enhancing by leveraging service interactions to support the customer.

Using these principles, customer service and support leaders can define a strategy and operating model to support in delivering to customer-centricity at the enterprise level.

Priority No. 1: Prioritize the Removal of Unnecessary Service Demand

The first priority of the customer-centric service and support function must be to reduce the need for customers to ever interact with it in the first place. This can be achieved by eliminating service requirements whenever possible and ensuring an uninterrupted and continuous product experience.

  • Collaborate cross-functionally to remove service demand by eliminating product defects, establishing ideal customer profiles, providing clear communications, and minimizing internal defects.
  • Proactively engage customers to minimize reactive service issues through customer education, product alters, service updates, and staying current with market trends and industry issues that might concern customers.

Priority No. 2: Provide Effortless Service Journeys

With a customer-centric strategy, the focus is on eliminating unnecessary interactions entirely. The remaining, unavoidable volume needs are handled with the understanding that customers' main goal is to engage with the product, not the customer service and support team.

Therefore, customer-centric service and support organizations are dedicated to designing strategies that facilitate a quick return to the product experience. This involves resolving service interactions effortlessly.

  • Optimize for resolution not customer choice by shifting customer service and support organization strategies from offering multiple channels to optimizing each channel for quick, low-effort resolution. This approach better addresses customer needs and significantly enhances the overall customer experience.
  • Design seamless customer journeys. Customer-centric service organizations should focus on reducing the effort required in multichannel journeys. This involves quickly capturing customer intent and designing seamless service journeys that guide customers to the best resolution channels for their specific issues.
  • Enable the frontline to deliver customer-centric resolution. Customer service and support leaders should realign performance metrics to focus on customer experience outcomes rather than traditional productivity measures like average handling time or average speed of answer. A behavior-based quality assurance framework can develop agents' customer-centric skills, reducing perceived effort and improving efficiency in channel guidance and self-service containment. Additionally, removing unnecessary policies and authorization requirements enables agents to deliver better customer-centric outcomes.

Priority No. 3: Make Reactive Service Value-Enhancing

In organizations where low-effort resolution is already effectively delivered, it is important to seek new opportunities for delivering additional value enhancement in customer interactions. Value enhancement is a critical tenant of customer-centricity as it supports the customer in perceiving greater value from the product rather than focusing on their service experience.

Value enhancement leverages personalized data/insights during the service interaction to reframe customers' value experiences of the product. This experience increases customer loyalty, as customers who perceive value enhancement are 82 percent more likely to remain loyal.

This strategy supports a customer-centric view by reinforcing the value provided through each service interaction. As a result, it fosters strong customer loyalty and creates opportunities for future growth through upsell and cross-sell as a result of the customer perceiving full value realization in their current product experience.

Enhance the product experience with value enhancement by educating customers on product usage, advising customers on new uses, helping customers achieve a goal, validating customer purchase decisions and anticipating customer needs.

Customer service and support leaders can take the lead in communicating the strategic shift in service by reframing the function's role in customer-centricity. This can be done by highlighting cost reduction through service reduction and revenue generation through value creation. Further, by communicating the role that customer service can play in customer-centricity, customer service and support leaders can begin to foster greater cross-functional collaboration. This collaboration is important for peers who require customer service's insights to align their functions to enterprise-wide customer-centricity efforts in areas such as supply chain, marketing, product, and sales.

Daniel O'Sullivan is a director analyst within Gartner's Customer Service and Support Practice, and Jason Barberio is a senior principal advisor in Gartner's Customer Contact Leadership Council and Gartner for Customer Service and Support Leaders.