How to connect with customers the right way

More than a decade after Dove’s first Real Beauty campaign, which made a point of empathising with women and understanding their body image issues, UK consumers are set to declare it one of the most customer-focused brands, in a report that finds a link between strong customer relationships and business growth.

“I grew up not being happy with my body shape and size at all,” says the original star of the campaign. “I hated being curvy. And I hated having curly hair. Once I started to develop an alternative definition of beauty, it all fell into place.”

Dove will be joined by a host of top performers in the new study from the customer agency C Space, which surveyed more than 4,000 UK consumers to understand which brands do – and don’t – truly “get” their customers.

It will also identify the best and worst performing industries with beauty and personal care brands expected to perform well, and traditional bank and telco companies expected to struggle.

The study measures customer quotient or CQ, a company’s capacity to build strong relationships with its consumers. The CQ framework identifies five brand behaviours that consumers value – empathy, relevance, openness, emotional validation and delivering a superior customer experience – that are key to a high CQ score and shed light on why a company is succeeding or struggling.

“Most businesses assess the relevance and appeal of their brands – they use NPS [net promoter score], tracking systems, social media listening and transaction data to make inferences about customers’ preferences and behaviour. But none of these measure from the customer’s perspective. They focus primarily on the rational needs of the business, rather than on the emotional needs of the customer,” says Phil Burgess, joint managing director of C Space.

But achieving a high CQ isn’t easy. C Space’s report considers the brands getting it right and what they are doing differently. “They are a caring company; I always think of my mother,” says one Dove customer. “When it comes to the product, I know it doesn’t harm me in any way. It’s something I fully trust.”

One high street fashion brand performed exceptionally well because of its dedication to customer experience in-store. “The bestselling or newest trend will be represented at the entrance to the store, to immediately grab the customer’s attention and keep the offering fresh,” says a former director. “Everything in that area will form one collection, so all the items you see are matched to each other, to make shopping as easy as possible. The merchandisers in head office style the collection and send photos to almost every store in the world on the same day.”

A high-street pharmacy emerges as another strong performer, building its customer empathy by working directly with customers and employees to co-create new products, services and in-store innovations, showing how a company can create a keener “customer intuition” than its competitors.

Two thirds of chief executives agree customers are among the most disruptive forces facing business

“Increasingly, we are seeing that the brands which beat the competition recognise they need to transform the way they view customers, from data points or sales targets to strategic assets with whom they can collaborate to build stronger businesses,” says Mr Burgess.

“They are ahead of the game,” says one survey respondent, who shows how a brand can emotionally validate its customers, making them feel smart for picking the airline. “Their planes are beautifully decked out, the seats are comfortable, the entertainment is great and, if you manage to get into their lounge at Heathrow, then you are in for a treat. They make me feel like the boss.”

CQ shows why customer understanding is a business imperative. Chief executives are starting to agree: at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, two thirds agreed that customers are among the most disruptive forces facing their business.

To see how your company or industry performed, hear more of these stories and learn about how customers can inspire growth in your business, visit