What is a customer-first strategy and why have one?

A customer-first strategy is thinking about the customer first in everything you do. It requires a re-setting and re-building of the culture of an organisation. You have to look through the lens of the customer for everything, then create and provide solutions and services that not just meet but exceed their needs and expectations. This means understanding, managing and optimising your customers’ overall experience: from registration and access to content and publishing platforms through to targeted marketing campaigns, product purchases or customer service.

Publishers adopting a customer-first strategy actively seek customer feedback and insights. They use this information to inform their approach to all customer engagement activities – and beyond to potentially trigger product innovation and influence the publishing programme.

The risks of not having a customer-first strategy

If you are not customer led you are missing out on a feedback loop and the opportunity for continuous refinement and improvement of the customer experience. What is it that drives subscriptions? Why do professors adopt your titles? Why are academics (or aren’t they) repeatedly visiting your website and publishing platform? This is about customer engagement and commercial opportunities.

It’s all about people, processes, data and tools

So how can you start developing a strategy, and what quick wins can you gain? This is like any change management programme. Look at people, processes, data and tools. It’s not just about technology; a cultural change will be necessary to truly adopt a customer-first strategy.

And while this might seem like a major project to take on (particularly at the moment) there are some quick wins:

  1. Clean and consolidate your data.
    Start by Identifying those elements of customer data which if improved will allow the business to manage customers more effectively and realise new commercial opportunities and capabilities. 
  2. Start to map out your current customer journeys.
    Look at the processes and touch points: start engaging with your customers directly. Elicit feedback, understanding what works well – and not so well – for them. Identify common themes and drivers. Stay focused and tackle one or two key areas for improvement. 
  3. Review your applications and tools.
    Assess whether you have open and flexible technology solutions in place to capture enriched data and provide business insights into your customers’ ongoing needs and requirements. Can you access these applications from anywhere at any time and on any device? Can you at a glance see a 360 degree view of your customer and all their activities? If not, it is time to think about what your requirements are, and then review which tools can help you optimise your processes and realise your vision.

Business as usual is a thing of the past in higher education and research organisations. Research programmes and faculty teaching have been massively – and maybe permanently – disrupted. Now more than ever is the time to put your customers, their needs and an understanding of the context they are working in at the heart of what you do.

How to discover more about customer-first strategy

Read more about our work as a strategic partner to academic publishers. And if you want to hear more about customer-first strategies in academic and educational publishing sign up here receive the recording of our recent webinar Building a Customer-First Strategy: The Rise of Customer Insight in Academic & Scholarly Publishing.

About Paula Neary

Paula is CEO of Ribbonfish and has 25 years of experience in senior Tech roles across academic, education, trade and STM
publishing at Springer Nature, Macmillan Science & Education, Random House and Pearson Education. Paula is an experienced business leader with a strategic technology background, is passionate about nurturing people, developing talent and leading effective teams and specialises in understanding and delivering the right solutions to solve problems.