In recent years, a growing number of companies have endeavored to become more customer-focused, striving to improve the customer experience in the hopes of improving customer satisfaction and retention rates and, ultimately, to strengthen the bottom line.

While companies have had various amounts of success in making the transition to becoming customer-driven, research has shown that those companies that place the customer at the center of everything they do typically outperform their peers.

A June 2016 Forrester Consulting study commissioned by Accenture Interactive found that high-performing customer centric companies have 17% increased customer loyalty, 13% improved ROI, and 11% increased revenue over their peers[1].

One company that places the customer at the center of its focus is PayPal. “We try very hard to deeply understand our customers and their problems,” said Brad Strock, PayPal CIO and HMG Strategy 2017 Transformational CIO Award Winner. “There are lot of different ways to do that, but meeting regularly with customers and gathering their insights from customer service and other interactions helps us to gain a 360-degree view of customers to understand the friction and pain points they encounter.”

One of the things that Strock has discovered through PayPal’s journey to customer centricity is that the challenges customers sometimes encounter aren’t always obvious.

“One of the pain points for customers in both the mobile experience and on the web is the friction point of logging in during the purchase process,” said Strock. “Our One Touch product is really a response to that friction. We’ve had great success with this. I believe we’ve had greater adoption of that product than others we’ve rolled out, up to 60 million customers. It’s an extremely powerful innovative solution to a friction point for consumers and for merchants since shopping cart abandonment is a big challenge they face.”

Strock and his team have also contributed to PayPal expanding its payment options for customers, another point of friction that customers identified that PayPal has acted on.

“Traditionally, in the consumer segment, we had not offered a lot of choice to customers as to how they fund their transactions,” said Strock. Over the past year, PayPal has invested and focused heavily on providing customers greater choice on their transactions, including credit card options and bank funding capabilities. “We took a bet and have had great success in offering consumers choices on their funding vehicles.”

Fostering a culture of innovation

To help foster a culture of innovative problem-solving, Strock has focused on communicating clearly to multiple stakeholders about the importance of understanding and meeting customers’ needs. He not only encourages PayPal’s product teams to spend quality time interacting with customers, but also the company’s engineers and teams that are developing platforms for customer use.

“It’s a journey – we’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go in terms of getting this right,” said Strock.

The teams gather the output from customer interactions, identify and prioritize the most pressing problems, and then rapidly prototype and test solutions aimed at solving those issues.

“We can create an environment where we quickly prototype solutions to problems. Too often in the past, we’ve had to make huge investments to determine if something is going to work or not. One way to encourage an environment of risk-taking is to test things earlier.”

Strock offers a few pieces of advice to his peers on the journey to becoming customer-centric. “First, a lot of time people believe they have a clear view of customers and their pain points but don’t overestimate your knowledge and learning there,” said Strock. “The importance of that deep understanding is critical. Second, creating a culture of innovation needs to permeate the entire company. It’s not just for teams that are building products for end customers, but also to apply these same concepts to enable your employees to be collaborative and innovative. A lot of times, we tend to focus on the external part. Employees want to be innovative, too.”

[1] Expectations Vs. Experience: The Good, The Bad, The Opportunity,” A Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper Commissioned by Accenture Interactive, June 2016.