LONDON: Few businesses are behaving in a truly customer-focused way, despite the widespread recognition of the importance of the customer experience, new research has revealed.

The Customer Management Exchange Network interviewed representatives of global brands, including Google, First Direct, Cisco and Philips, to discover the challenges and priorities for customer experience leaders.

It found that the main concerns were to develop customer experience strategies that stuck and to ensure organisations became more customer-centric. And with customer experience the new battle ground, organisations had decisions to make on whether to innovate or wait and learn from others mistakes.

Finally, there was a need to better understand customers and to transform the vast amounts of data being collected into insights that could be turned into business value.

Arne van de Wijdeven, Director of Customer Advocacy at Philips stated that customer insight was "the key to a competitive edge" and was vital for creating an exceptional customer journey. Otherwise, he said, you're just putting products on the market "and that doesn't work".

According to Arne, organisations should not only deliver but also exceed customer expectations, while customer loyalty should be prioritised over customer acquisition.

Marc Mullen, CEO of First Direct stressed the need to keep employees engaged, especially in a service industry such as banking and described the bank's culture as "family".

He highlighted the importance of loyalty and an ongoing positive experience when he outlined how one third of customers joined through recommendation, while half of staff came the same way. "What is more powerful than word of mouth?" he asked. "Focus on loyalty and the rest follows."

Loyalty and advocacy were also factors highlighted by Stuart Crawford-Browne of GfK's Technology division in a Warc contribution where he recommended design thinking principles as a way of introducing a creative framework that could foster customer-centric innovation.

And writing in Market Leader, Gillian James, of TMI UK, offered ten steps to a first class customer experience, including having a senior figure accountable for it and having board level executives regularly meet their customers.

It was also vital, she said, that there was a sense of progress being made as this was the biggest driver of motivation.

Data sourced from PR Newswire; additional content by Warc staff