by: Jennifer Rice

Business has gone through so many fads: TQM, push marketing, viral marketing, CRM… now we’re all about customer centricity: if we can make the customer central to the organization, well, that’s the key to success. Yes, I confess that I’ve been on that bandwagon myself, so what I’m about to say may shock you:

Stop focusing on the customer.

Stop focusing on your product.

Stop focusing on your sales techniques.

We all want to categorize everything. We want to put each element of business into neat little boxes. Then we can point to one element and say, “this is the key to all our problems.” It’s just like fad diets: first, calories were the problem. Then, fat was the problem. Now it’s carbs. Finally, consumers are starting to figure out that it’s more complex than that; it’s more about balance. And just as there is no fast fix for dieting, there’s no fast fix for business.

Right now we’re focusing so much on the customer that we’ve lost sight of the big picture. When we focus on the customer, we see a person out there – separate from “us” – that we need to identify, label and categorize. Companies like Best Buy are segmenting groups and assigning names. Sure, it’s resulting in sales. Yes, it’s better than trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong person. It's a step in the right direction, but it's not the answer. It’s just part of yet another fad that won't deliver on everyone's expections, and then we’ll all go rushing off to figure out the next piece of the puzzle to fix.

And that is the fundamental problem: focusing on the puzzle pieces and not the puzzle itself. We are artificially creating separation between the company and customers – and between different departments within the same company – when in fact we are all part of the same system. The customer is simply a component of that system; no piece is more or less important. It’s what I call the ecology of business. We need to switch our focus from components to connections. A brand is an ecosystem. The strength of the brand is directly proportional to the number and strength of the connections within the system. Connections, not components, are the brand drivers.

It starts with the ecosystem's foundation: the company and its employees. We need to move beyond a focus on a specific department (silo mentality) to a focus on the interconnections between individuals (system mentality). What are the most critical connections in your company? Why not have VPs over key connections instead of components? What about giving more power and compensation to the individuals who are directly responsible for customer connections? The individuals working your store or call center are the puzzle pieces that connect directly to your customers. They are equally as important as the CEO; perhaps more so.

And of course, how could we have a conversation about connections without mentioning weblogs? I stumbled across this long but very good post on the subject by Colin Henderson.  He quotes Ray Ozzie of Groove Networks: “Weblogs can help us achieve a greater ‘return on connection’ from employee, customer, and partner relationships.” So by extending the role of ‘connection creation’ deeper into the company, the overall system is strengthened.

(UPDATE) Finally, we should consider the connection between the brand system and the larger social ecosystem in which it operates. We could call it "social responsibility" (component view)  or simply see it as yet another connection that must be monitored and strengthened. Common values provide additional points of connection between all individuals within and between systems. It's why companies like The Body Shop have strong brands; they see themselves in context of the larger social system, and the additional 'value connections' between individuals serve as reinforcements. "A cord of 3 strands is not quickly broken."

I’m trying to figure out how to post a holistic system view I developed using a visualization tool from TheBrain. It’s very cool… stay tuned.

For a related post, click here.

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