Customer behaviors around the world are changing. Fast. For businesses, the risk in not keeping up is all too real.

The companies that really "get" their customers, like Apple and Amazon, are setting the standards, raising the bar high.

Because of "Uberization"—in broad terms, displacement and marginalization by nontraditional competitors—customers across all industries now have higher expectations.

As a result, staying relevant to customers is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in a time when doing so couldn't be more critical to success.

Gradually, leaders are recognizing that relevancy demands empathy—to know customers as the real, complex, creative people they are—then instilling that empathy across the entire organization. It's why, according to a recent IBM C-suite global study, 66% of C-level execs say they plan to focus on customers as individuals rather than segments (up from 54% who said so in 2013).

But cultivating a shared understanding of customers as individuals is easier said than done, especially for multinationals with millions of customers and dozens of offices scattered across continents. It requires departments to align and pay closer attention to the people they serve. To embrace new perspectives and fresh ways of seeing the world and the business. To then internalize that knowledge and use it to act with intuition and urgency. And, it needs to happen on an ongoing basis—not on a need-to-know basis—to meet customers' needs as they change, therefore making the business more agile and adaptable.

The way most businesses are structured today, it's the market research and insights teams that are positioned to champion the customer-as-individual. Those departments are the official caretakers of consumer truths, and they are the people in the organization closest to customers.

The question is whether market research departments are empowered enough, and have the right resources for, inspiring leaders and the company culture to change.

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image of Jessica DeVlieger

Jessica DeVlieger is SVP of marketing and sales at C Space, which helps leading brands partner with their customers to gain deep insight, creative ideas, and honest input.

LinkedIn: Jessica DeVlieger