How Lenovo is making the switch from product to customer centricity

Global CMO of the PC manufacturer shares how the brand is changing corporate culture, experience thinking and more to be a customer-led company

Much has been written about consumers’ desires for better experiences from the brands they interact with. But what do you do when being a product company is hardwired into your corporate DNA?

If you’re Chinese-American technology maker, Lenovo, you change your DNA.

Leading that change is Lenovo’s Australian-born CMO, David Roman. An eight-year veteran of the business, Roman has been working for the past two years with other senior leaders to reconsider all aspects of the company’s relationships with its customer - before, during and after the purchase process.

What’s critical is embracing a concept Roman readily concedes is a cliché but nonetheless vital to Lenovo’s transformation: Becoming a customer-centric company.

“Everybody always says they want to be focused on customers,” he tells CMO. “But for technology companies, our bias is towards the actual devices we create. We are very cognisant of what people do with them, but the lens is our products.

“We are really trying to reverse that mindset and say, ‘let’s understand these groupings of customers we service, understand what drives them, what they’re interested in, what sort of experience they want’. And then see how we provide that experience through the technology that we have.”

Reorganising the team

Rather than being organised around product groups, the company has reorganised around business groups focused on customer segments, and within those segments, have multiple categories of products. Lenovo is also thinking beyond the devices it makes to consider surrounding services making up the experience, including training, support and bundled services, right through to user interfaces, and even how the products actually start up.

“All those different elements go to make up that experience,” Roman says. “So we now look much more holistically at that whole experience. We look at what customers really value and why they prioritise. We look at where we are deficient, and where we have to focus more on being different.

“There is nothing like the reality check of looking at your product and solution from the perspective of the customer using it. It actually helps us produce a much better, more polished solution that then helps get customers to become much more passionate about the experience of Lenovo. They will then communicate it to others.”

That also means looking to partners to supplement areas where Lenovo lacks strength. This has led to releasing products such as its Jedi Challenge entertainment device, developed in conjunction with Disney, which uses augmented reality to give a user the experience of wielding a lightsabre. The company is also working with Google to develop a screen-based home assistant that brings a visual interface to Google’s existing Home smart speakers, and again with Google to create a virtual reality headset called Mirage, which is expected to ship this year.

Roman says these products represent a new way of telling the Lenovo brand story. In addition, the transition is leading Lenovo to move on from the product release cycles that have been the mainstay of technology marketing since the industry began.

“Product launches come and go, but if we have a framework that is consistent, we end up having a more consistent message over time. That is crucial to building brand value,” Roman says.

The change has been enacted inside the organisation as well, with 10 per cent of the at-risk earnings of staff now dependent on performance around key consumer experience metrics, such as timely delivery, speed to order, and first-time usage.

“Let’s think about customers first,” Roman says. “Let’s think about the impact we have on customers, and let’s measure everything in the company in terms of the impact on customers.”

Fostering engagement

What’s more, Lenovo is endeavouring to respond to the perceived need of younger consumers for greater engagement with brands, rather than just the experience of using the product.

Roman says he has been inspired by campaigns such as the Dove Real Beauty campaign from 2004, which enabled that brand to create a new conversation with its customers. So in India it has launched a campaign for its mobile products based on the concept of phone/life balance. The campaign discusses the issue of people spending too much time on their phones and potentially alienating themselves from real life.

“We created a video and had a questionnaire so people could self-assess whether they owned their phone or their phone owned them,” Roman says. “That gave us a very different discussion with a much broader audience. The level of interaction with the video and the comments and so on are five or six times higher than with any product video we have created. So there is a lot of passion around that issue.”

Ultimately, Roman says the changes will shift Lenovo away from its roots to the customer-centric model he desires.

“It’s a great opportunity, it helps us make our brands much better, it helps us make brands which matter more to customers and ultimately bring more value,” he says. “It’s a great transition. But we need to understand what works, what doesn’t work, and how to do things differently.

“The journey is a long journey.”

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