Becoming a customer centric business involves instinct and complex data.

Gut feel and instinct are what many entrepreneurs might attribute their success to.

But if you power that gut feel with data to give customers a better experience, a business can do a lot better than "better".

That was the theme emerging from the recent BNZ Connect Panel discussion, held in association with the New Zealand Herald Business, where three industry insiders explored the topic of customer centricity, and discussed how to apply this concept to help a business shift gears.

Customer centricity means understanding your customers' needs and putting them at the centre of everything. To become truly customer centric means using data to provide you with customer insights and to translate those insights into actions.

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Pip Gilbert is Vice President of Product at Dexibit, a data software business which uses artificial intelligence to improve customer experience in visitor attractions like museums, zoos and theme parks. She says the move to customer-centric strategies is recent: "It has come about because of a real shift in the technologies available to us. It's not that technology has caused customer centricity, but it gives us the tools to make it accessible."

Dexibit uses data to help museums and visitor attractions, such as the Smithsonian and US Federal Government venues, switch from gut feel to insight informed decisions and Gilbert adds: "Technology has democratised it [customer-centricity]. It is no longer only for large corporates with the budgets to fund massive research projects."

While technology is important, Shaun Fitzgibbon, Partner at insight and data analytics agency TRA, says customer-centricity is about mindset.

"Focusing on the customer has been around a long time," he says. "We were doing focus groups before I was born. The mindset changed recently when it moved from a back room where a single person was the customer champion to the mindset of a business.

"Everyone in the business from the front-line to finance has to understand customers.

Data is powering it, but everyone now realises they have to do this to compete."

But what business outcomes can you expect from taking a customer centric approach?

Tim Wixon, who heads BNZ's tech industry practice, says having a customer centric approach is important if you're looking for investment to help you grow your business.

Wixon says being able to show your lead indicators, as well as inherently understanding your customer, is compelling when you're talking to potential investors "show me- don't tell me," he says.

"As a bank we're interested in understanding a business' revenue, cashflow, and financial metrics. We're also interested that you have worked out what your lead indicators are for generating those things. That might be foot traffic or the number of hits on your website and conversion ratios. These things turn into revenue and cashflow. We want to see a business is keeping track of those things and is able to demonstrate how they are trending."

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But with all that data at your fingertips, it still remains just as important for business owners to be able to make sense of the insights and apply judgement and gut feel.

Gilbert says: "The data won't make a decision for you. You still need to make a call. You can use all the tools in the world, even things like machine learning, but somebody still has to make a decision on how to use the data."

Wixon explains how data should be part of the decision-making process, not a replacement for it.

"Data is not replacing the judgement or decision that you make. It is giving you more objective points rather than just subjective gut feel to make your business decisions.

"Why wouldn't you want to have more information at your disposal? As long as you know what you are tracking and what's important, you can apply your judgement to the insights you get from data."

Data abundance will only grow and Fitzgibbon adds: "It's becoming fantastic, but we need people within the business to make meaning from that and tell the story of what's going on.

"Getting the human element working with the machine element is essential" says Fitzgibbon. "Humans can add that creative inspiration. You need to balance both sides."

One of the most daunting aspects of a data-driven, customer-centric strategy is the sheer amount of data generated. Technology means there are more and more opportunities to gather data.

"Not so long ago it was common to talk about 'big data'", Fitzgibbon says. "These days people in business just call it 'data.'"

Even so, there is still a lot of it and it can seem overwhelming. Gilbert explains how to take that first step towards a customer centric approach.

"A lot of people get lost in the process of starting their data journey. You can spend a lot of time navel-gazing and writing long reports to stakeholders. We encourage our customers to take a single step to get that first run on the board.

"Once you have taken that step, the next one will come more naturally. Then the next one. Before you know it, you'll be in a position where you are seeking out information rather than being overwhelmed by it."

Fitzgibbon says: "We train our analysts to always analyse to their objectives. That applies to a business. Ask what are you trying to achieve with the problem you are solving? You don't get swamped or inundated with data when you know what you are looking for."

Some key outtakes from the BNZ Connect Panel speakers:

Pip Gilbert - "Customer centricity is thinking about customers at every touchpoint with your organisation."

Shaun Fitzgibbon - "Don't just delegate customer-centricity to one person in your team.
Encourage and empower all your people to think about customers in their role."

Tim Wixon - "When businesses approach us looking for investment, we want them to show us rather tell us how they are performing."

Find out more www.bnz.co.nz/connectpanel