How to Create a Customer Centric Organisational Structure 

Martin Newman
January 24, 2023
12 mins
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Most organisational structures have not evolved for a considerable period of time. 

Our businesses remain structured around channels and not around the customer.

The result of which is that the customer has a disjointed experience. We talk about omnichannel, which is really the intent to deliver a seamless joined up experience to the customers across all channels and touchpoints. When this rarely happens. 

Some of the reasons for this are driven by legacy technology and the inability of a business to have a single view of the customer. But much of it results from teams working in silos across a business and not working in a way that ensures customers enjoy a consistent experience across channels, messaging, product, sales and customer service.

If you are genuine in your intent to be truly customer centric, then you’ll need to empower both customers to have the experience they desire and your colleagues to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

There is probably no more simplified, but highly relevant, example of this than Timpsons upside down management model where the role of the senior team is to facilitate and support other colleagues to deliver the best possible experience of customers. Look at your own board strategy, and I’m confident this model would be reversed with customers and colleagues somewhere down the pyramid below the board and leadership team.

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If we’re not all in it together and heading in the same direction of travel, then there’s no chance of us delivering for the customer:

When Mike Logue took over as CEO of Dreams back in 2013, one of his key learnings from talking to colleagues on the front line of the business was that there was a sense of them vs us. They didn’t feel the connection with the ‘head office.’ Nor were they really empowered to do their jobs to the best of their ability. One of the first things Mike did to transform the business was to re-name the ‘head office from ‘Headquarters’ to Bedquarters.’ It was a smart play and sent a strong message across the business that they were all in it together and there was no distinct hierarchy between the office and those working there and those working on the front line.

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The disempowerment of the front line:

I believe that where many retailers have fallen short over the past 20 years is when they’ve disempowered their colleagues on the front line from having any meaningful input into the decision making around product, merchandising, visual merchandising, marketing and customer service. It’s a strange approach, because how can someone sitting in a ‘head office’ in a major city such as London, Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow be better placed to deliver a localised experience for customers than the people engaging with them on a daily basis? Now, I’m not suggesting we disempower the head office functions. Far from it. But we need a much more balanced approach between empowering the teams on the front line to make decisions while the head office staff leverage the economies of scale of being a UK-wide, multichannel, multiple-store business. 

If I were running a store today, I’d want to merchandise the store on a daily basis based on the weather and other factors. I’d want to be empowered to resolve customer service issues without having to delay things for the customer by going up the chain of command. I’d want some ability to market to customer locally and even have some control over promotions and potentially pricing. 

The organisational structure must evolve to ensure sustainable success:

Businesses think that functional or matrix organisational structures are the best approach do so for the following reasons:

  • Clear responsibilities
  • Strong specialisation across departments
  • High working efficiency
  • Fast decision making

However, if you want to be truly customer centric, these structures will stop you from achieving that for the reasons below:

  • Customers are only considered at a functional level not cross functional
  • Silo’d functions mean that experiences are not joined up across touch points
  • Lack of communication and cooperation between ‘departments’
  • Lack of understanding of other job functions
  • Risk of sectoral selfishness and inter-departmental conflicts
  • Ineffective customer value proposition due to poor coordination of product, customer group and market
  • Limited innovation

I created these models below way back in 2008 in an attempt to describe why the existing organisational structure on the left, was never going to enable us to be customer centric due to the silo’s at play and lack of collaboration and joined up approach to customers.

Whereby the new structure on the right would enable a business to move from silos to everyone focusing on customer centricity.

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We need to focus more on soft skills:

We focus on hiring for skills and experience and often don’t pay enough attention to the softer skills. 

To follow are the core attributes you need your colleagues to have if you really want to be customer centric. Particularly those who interact directly with customers:

  • Listening skills – The starting point 
  • Empathy – The ability  to demonstrate understanding
  • Communication skills – The ability to cut through
  • Product knowledge – You can’t fix what you don’t understand
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Patience – You’ll need it
  • Positive attitude – Customer warm to positivity
  • Positive language – Less of the can’t, won’t, don’t
  • A willingness to go the extra mile
  • Personal responsibility – Be the one to make the difference
  • Confidence – In what you say and what you do
  • Tenacity – Comes with drive and determination
  • Authenticity – We can all see through BS
  • Humility – Hold your hands up
  • Adaptability – Help where it’s needed
  • Attentiveness – See it through
  • Desire to learn – Every day is a school day
  • Professionalism – You represent more than yourself
  • The ability to respond quickly – A sense of urgency
  • Time management skills – Juggling balls
  • Operational capability  (Digital, marketing etc.)

Every person in the business can have objectives and be measured by their input into customer centricity. For example:

  • All front line staff and those who engage with customers directly
  • Customer Service Director – Must focus on quality and not quantity
  • CCO – A mandate for defining the customer experience
  • CEO – Remove the roadblocks
  • CFO – Build lifetime value as opposed to cutting costs
  • CTO – Must prioritise customer centricity over non-essential tech

  • Distribution centre staff ensure the right products are picked, packed and sent to customers on-time
  • The tech team can implement technology that empowers customers to engage as they choose
  • The marketing team can ensure that customers are given reasons to comeback with personalised offers and communication
  • The HR team recruit people who fit the bill and are customer centric and a cultural fit
  • Buyers and merchandisers select products that customers want to buy

  • Property teams determine store locations are desirable and accessible for consumers
  • Visual merchandisers ensure customers are attracted by engaged content and point of sale material on and offline
  • Airline check in staff ensure customers start their travel feeling good about the journey ahead
  • Car servicing departments play a big role in driving customer retention
  • Bank staff should proactively promote relevant added value services and new products
  • The ESG/social responsibility team drive the move towards sustainability

Our people need to be more representative of the customers we’re serving:

And of course, let’s not forget diversity and inclusion. 

How can a business truly expect to perform to its maximum potential if the background of its colleagues does not represent the customers it's selling to?

Women make 70% to 80% of all consumer purchase decisions, yet the FTSE 350 only has around 12 female CEOs.

Somewhere between 12%-15% of the UK population is from an ethnic minority, and yet 1 in 5 retail boards are all white, and all male and nearly 60% of FTSE boards are all white.

There are 14m disabled consumers in the UK. How many boards have a disabled person on the board? How many people working directly with disabled customers have a form of disability? 

The Purple pound is a £350bn opportunity.

Every study you’ll ever read will tell you that being diverse and inclusive is commercially the right thing to do. So why are we still so far behind in this respect?

In summary:

If we structure around the customer, we can ensure that everyone in the business is going in the same direction of travel with shared and synergistic objectives and KPIs/OKRs. 

And more importantly, everyone will be empowered, from the customer to the head office and those on the front line.