10 minute read 1 Feb 2023

Five steps to put the customer at the heart of your organisation

By Boudewijn Chalmers Hoynck van Papendrecht

EY Global Wealth & Asset Management Profitable Growth Solution Leader; EY Netherlands Wealth & Asset Management Leader, Consulting

Team player and people person. Networker. Pragmatic. Financial services thought leader.

10 minute read 1 Feb 2023

Putting the customer at the core of the organization is no easy feat, it requires a companywide customer-centric transformation every step of the way.

In brief:

  • Still too often a specific CX challenge or initiative is processed in a siloed manner without considering the wider customer picture, risking misalignment across the organization
  • To guide companies in their end-to-end customer-centric transformations, EY developed a pragmatic five-step approach from vision and mission to execution.
  • It serves as a framework to ensure the right questions are asked at the right time, preventing companies from diving headfirst into topics that do not answer the fundamental questions.
  • The most critical element is to align strategy, design, and implementation decisions to the strategic positioning defined at the start.

For the past three years, EY investigated what the future consumer could look like as part of the EY FutureConsumer.Now research. The future consumer is defined as the consumer that organizations will need to engage with in the times to come, reflecting different ways people expect to be living their lives, how they will make choices, and what matters to them.

This raises the question of what the implications are for today’s businesses and organizations. Companies need to ensure they remain relevant to their customers in the future, by prioritizing meeting customer needs through applying a customer-centric mindset across all aspects of the organization. To apply such a transformational mindset successfully, it is critical to define the right starting point: this enables well-founded decision-making that translates into logical steps. It is like cooking a meal – you don’t start by putting the pan on the fire if you don’t know yet what meal you want to prepare and if you don’t have the right ingredients at home. We experienced this when a client requested support with designing a customer journey, but we jointly found out that they actually needed to agree on a clear strategic positioning first.

The five step approach to support companies in becoming customer-centric

Based on numerous customer-centric transformations EY supported over the last years, we have developed a pragmatic five-step approach. We describe these steps below.

Figure 1. Successful customer-centric transformations incorporate an end-to-end approach aligning strategy, design, and implementation decisions to the vision/mission and strategic positioning

Graph: The five step approach: vision & mission, corporate & growth strategy, strategize, design, execute

Step 1 – Defining a vision and mission should be more than a mandatory exercise in your strategic plan

Defining a vision and mission feels for many companies as an intangible to-do item to cross off the strategy checklist, rather than allowing it to serve as an actual compass for customer focused thinking. A well-defined vision and mission, however, is an essential first step. It reflects what the reason of existence is and where the company aspires to be in the future. The renowned Golden Circle theory by Simon Sinek emphasizes the importance of starting with ‘why’. According to Sinek “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Recent research conducted by Harvard Business Review supports this theory. The research states that high-purpose companies beat the market, grow faster, and make more profit. High-purpose companies in the Netherlands include organizations like bunq (“we're on a journey to make life easy, starting from the way we manage money”), Mollie (“simplify financial services for all companies to become the world's most loved payment service provider”) and Coolblue (“anything for a smile”). According to Harvard Business Review, these companies have one important factor in common: the senior management communicates a clear view about the direction of the company.

Your set-out strategy should be the reason why customers come to you. Do you want to be a price fighter, provide the best quality products, or deliver the highest level of customer service?

Step 2 – Start from customer value instead of internal goals when defining your corporate and growth strategy

To realize the defined vision and mission, the next step is to define the corporate and growth strategy: the strategic positioning around what you want to be known for (where to play and how to win), your ambitions and how you plan to expand the business. In too many strategies, internal company goals are used as starting point- rather than focusing on how you plan to create value for the customers. In the end, your set-out strategy should be the reason why (potential) customers come to you. Do you want to be a price fighter, provide the best quality products, or deliver the highest level of customer service? For example, ING’s strategy underlines the importance of providing a superior customer experience and putting sustainability at the heart. The corporate strategy also informs what you are NOT going to focus on and as such is an important guiding principle to prioritize investment decisions.

Step 3 – Zoom in on strategic customer decisions to understand your customers and why they will stay

Once the ambitions and strategic fundamentals are set, it is important to start with the customer you serve. What does the customer look like today? Who are the most valuable customers? And what could potential customer segments look like in the (near) future? We recently completed a project for one of our banking clients where we added a new sustainability dimension to the customer segmentation approach. Based on climate maturity and climate interest, customer segments within the client portfolio were redefined. The success of the digital insurer Lemonade serves as another example showcasing that targeting and knowing a unique customer segment – in this case, millennials - pays off. Lemonade appeals to millennials by for example using a well-developed AI chatbot, supporting charities, and using a transparent way of communication.

Once the target segment is clear, it is key to understand these customers’ changing needs, personalities, and behaviors. Even more important: what problem do you solve for these customers?

An example of a customer need within the insurance industry is the need to protect the purchase directly at the time of purchase, because it brings peace of mind and security for the future. To ensure that current and target customer efforts are optimized, strategic priorities and opportunities across the customer life cycle (Acquisition, Customer Management, Expansion and Retention) must be developed based on the selected customer segments. Moreover, the value proposition strategy needs to be clear - which channels should be used to effectively reach the customer segment? What is the optimal contact strategy? In parallel, you look at the optimal product portfolio and determine the pricing strategy.

No matter what strategic decision you must take, we always recommend our clients to draft a strategic investment case to determine the size of the prize (the potential in the market), the costs & benefits, and detail the opportunities & risks resulting from a strategic decision. In this sense, a data-driven approach is critical to support decision-making. Clarity from such an investment case helps you to determine if you need to move into the next stage of this transformation or if it is not worth doing it.

Step 4 – Align design decisions to your vision, mission and strategy to exceed customer expectations

The answers to the strategic customer decisions in the previous step pave the way to design choices. This is where defining the customer experience comes in. The first step is to define the blueprint of product, pricing, channels, and services that serve the value proposition strategy. The value proposition strategy is about what gap in the market the business is serving, how this resolves the consumers’ needs, and what is unique about their provided services. However, it is the value proposition design that is more tied to the brand’s identity which underlies the need of the customer and delivering the best value. In our projects, we analyze desirability, feasibility, and viability to determine the uniqueness of the new value proposition.

Note that the most successful organizations develop customer-centricity capabilities and bring customer research and insight into all lifecycles of transformation, innovation, and new proposition development. This ensures real customer needs are validated by insight, through qualitative research and co-creation, and through to quantitative studies (e.g. Web, mobile and other channel analytics). KPI’s like NPS as well as new emotional engagement measures and indicators across the end-to-end customer journey and lifecycle, help ensure we understand our customers with a rich behavioral segmentation, as we design and optimize services and products for them.

The key moments of truth are setting out the customer experience design that supports you in identifying the relationship with the customer, and how to meet and exceed customer expectations.

One of the key moments for bunq was the customer onboarding registration. Since the sign-up flow is the customer’s first experience and contact with their different products, bunq designed a smooth onboarding experience that starts a conversation with the customer, has zero paperwork, and only takes 5 minutes. This a good example of designing a customer experience that fills the gap between what consumers need and what is currently offered in the market.

Based on our experience, a powerful tool for a successful customer experience design is the creation of personas. To make sure that the needs of the customer are met, organizations can set out a maturity assessment of their customer experience. This was done for one of our clients who wanted to transform from a product-focused to a customer-focused company, in line with their purpose. The maturity assessment enabled them to gain insights into their current customer experience and compare this to the industry standard. Based on these results, the desired state of the customer experience was designed and transformed into detailed customer experience initiatives.

After the customer experience is designed, the service model design ensures consistent service quality across the entire organization. After bunq launched its onboarding experience they saw that 54% of the users dropped off when entering the welcome screen. To improve retention in the app they found out that simplifying the welcome screen to only one option would increase the signup rate by 16%. By introducing this new flow, they built and scaled their service quality, which helped them go from 5k paying users to 60k paying users in 4 months (Premium and Business).

Next, we are looking at the existing operating model and capabilities to understand which elements of the customer-centric strategy and design can already be delivered, and if there are capability gaps that need to be addressed. Addressing the capability gaps requires understanding what needs to be done to close these gaps. Articulating this in initiative charters describing changes to people, processes, technology, risks, and dependencies provides the context for making a clear investment decision(s). This is brought together in a business case. The business case supports the overall decision-making. In parallel, we outline the initiatives needed in a transformation plan and roadmap planned over time. The overall design of the future experience and what needs to be done to get there, has to align with the strategic positioning defined earlier. This is a very important part of decision-making.

Step 5 – Execute on the strategic decisions and design choices with realization power

The last step is to move towards operationalization. Elements to consider in the implementation are how to effectively manage a transformation project, and how to bring along key stakeholders within the organization regarding the change. Especially in large companies a common pitfall is to focus too much on process quality rather than realization power. As a result, transformational changes are often outdated once they are completed. Recent research by Oxford University Saïd Business School and EY emphasizes that leaders who prioritize workforce emotions in their transformations are 2.6x more likely to be successful than those who don't. Looking at the realization of the transformation itself, performance measurement and reporting practices safeguard the return on investment and drive data-led decision-making.

Finally, it is key to continuously monitor and optimize your strategy to remain competitive in a fast-changing market. Do customers still demand your products? Has channel preference changed over time? And is our pricing still competitive? Solid monitoring processes need to be in place besides ongoing analyses to translate data into actionable insights. Closing the feedback loop enables you to adapt quickly to changing customer demands and make your business successful.

In my experience working with clients across EMEIA, customer experiences, business processes, and performance analytics must be considered holistically in a unified strategy for customer-centricity. Benefit frameworks and the strategies that power them up must be reimagined, with customer need states, benefits, and engagement KPIs driving measurable business KPIs throughout the innovation and transformation lifecycle.
Peter Neufeld
EMEIA Head of Business Transformation

The right question at the right time

Approaching a customer transformation, as set out in this article, does not require an answer to every step that was described. Rather, customer transformation can be a combination of (sub)-elements. This article serves as a framework to ensure the right questions are asked at the right time, preventing companies from diving headfirst into topics that do not answer the fundamental questions. The most critical element to bear in mind is the need to align strategy, design, and implementation decisions to the vision/mission and strategic positioning you defined at the start. Without a strategic direction, you will always make suboptimal decisions. Another key takeaway is that to complete an end-to-end customer-centric transformation, continuous enablement through data, technology, and appropriate risk measures should be in place. Monitoring and optimizing your strategy by adapting to changing customer demands is a continuous process to remain competitive in the market.

Interested to find out how customer-centric your organization is? We created a maturity assessment based on the framework to get insight into the current level of customer centricity in your company and to define pragmatic recommendations on how to become (even) more customer-centric. Please feel free to reach out in case you are interested and want to know more.


A wider customer experience picture should be preferred rather than specific challenges within an organization. Unfortunately the latter is still the case most of the time. EY developed a five steps program in order to fulfil the need for an end to end customer-centric transformation.

About this article

By Boudewijn Chalmers Hoynck van Papendrecht

EY Global Wealth & Asset Management Profitable Growth Solution Leader; EY Netherlands Wealth & Asset Management Leader, Consulting

Team player and people person. Networker. Pragmatic. Financial services thought leader.