Some folks are generous. Some of these generous folks think of me as thought leader in the Customer space. As a result when other folks are doing research in customer-centricity, customer strategy, customer experience they are told to reach out and ask me questions. Such questioning took place recently on the subject matter of customer-centricity.
What is Customer-Centricity? And How Does An Organisation Become Customer-Centric?
The questioner wanted to pick my brains on the following:
· Definition: what is customer-centricity?
· Obstacles: what stands in the way of an organisation being customer-centric; and
· Route-Map: what path an organisation needs to take and traverse in order to become customer-centric.
It occurred to me that what the questioner was looking for was a template. Better still a mould. A mould in which you pour in an organisation and out comes a customer-centric organisation. Or a template, if applied precisely, to an organisation, any organisation, out comes a customer-centric organisation.
Let’s imagine that a customer-centricity wizard conjured up such a template / mould. Surely, this template would be sold to any and all with the desire and means to purchase it. What would be the result using this template? Does it take that much imagination to see that each and every organisation would end up the same. Exactly the same: each would have the exact same understanding of what it is to be customer-centric: channels, processes, practices, structures…. And if this is the case then what would differentiate one of these organisations from another?
I can see the lure of ready-made answers to complex challenges, opportunities, and problems. With ready-made answers and templates one does not need to think. One does not need to investigate matters including generating original meaningful insight into customers. Or the lives of employees and that which is occurring at the coal face where the organisation and the customer meet. One does not have to put oneself in a vulnerable position of trying stuff out and accepting / embracing failure: the situation not turning out as you had hoped / planned. One does not need to be patient and iterate one’s way to customer-centricity. And of course when one arrives at customer-centricity then one can put one’s feet up, sink into habit, and live on automatic pilot. Yes, I get the lure. I can see the lure of instant get rich schemes. Or no-effort instant weight loss regimes. And what do they have in common: they all disappoint. Now compare that with the folks who are serious about dealing with their alcohol addiction and show up at Alcoholics Anonymous.
Might Customer-Centricity Come In Flavours? And Be Context Sensitive?
Consider this. In the world of Apple, customer-centricity means inventing products that folks want to own because they show up as so desirable (so cool), useful (they enrich the lives of customers in some manner), and because they are so intuitive (easy) to use. In the world of Zappos, customer-centricity means providing the world’s best customer service – where it is perfectly ok for a Zappos employee to spend hours on a phone with a customer. In the world of Amazon, customer-centricity means making it so easy for customers to buy a range of goods from Amazon at a ‘value for money’ price, and receive the goods the next day or so – no travel, no hassle. In the world of John Lewis, customer-centricity means providing great products and calling forth great service from the folks that work in the business by ensuring that these folks share in the success of the business.
If you get what I am getting at, then you will get my advice. What advice? Do not look for definitions of customer-centricity. Do not look for a template / mould / recipe to turn your organisation into a customer-centric organisation. Instead, live the question! Grapple with the question!
What Is The Question And Challenge That Lies At The Heart of Customer-Centricity?
This question: In which way/s do we wish to simplify-enrich the lives of the customers we have chosen to do business with?
To answer this question well it is necessary to understand the lives (as lived, experienced) of your chosen customers. Generating this kind of understanding – rich understanding – is a challenge. Why? This understanding can only come about if you get close to your customers. How close? You have to enter their lives: to experience the world as they experience the world. Whilst this sound challenging it may not necessarily be as challenging as it sounds provided you are in touch with your own experience of living – your own humanity. Apple’s enter into smartphones had a lot to do with Job’s frustration with using the mobile phones on the market. Zappos way of doing business is a manifestation of who Tony Hsieh is as a human being: how he feels about people and relationships between people, how he wishes to be treated by folks.
I say that to show up as customer-centric you have to give up looking for ready-made answers and grapple with the question. The only question that matters when you are considering customer-centricity is this one: for our chosen base of customers, what do we need to do to simplify-enrich the lives of our customers, and are we doing that which is necessary? Imagine what becomes possible if all the folks in your leadership are living this question. Imagine what becomes possible if all of the Tops and Middles are living this question. Now imagine if all the folks in your organisation are living this question.
I also say that you have to live this question every day. Why? Because life is not life but living – which is to say it is a process. Process is flow. Which is to say that all is change. What constituted customer-centricity last month may not constitute customer-centricity today. Which is to say that customer-centricity is not a thing. Nor a destination. It is perception: how your customers perceive you. It is also context sensitive. Think Tesco. Once Tesco was considered the poster child for customer-centric business: the exemplar. The context changed with the financial crisis, the recession, and the UK’s austerity regime. The folks at Tesco did not change their ways. Yet folks at Waitress who served upmarket affluent customers did notice the change of context. And in so doing they made a number of changes including the introduction of the value range.
I invite you to consider that none of the existing methods, tools, techniques, formulas, recipes, templates will help you in the challenge and opportunity of customer-centricity. The opposite may be the case. Why so? The nature of our educational process is such that we are addicted to forcing the world to fit our moulds (theories, approaches, methods, tools, techniques). That is how education makes us stupid. Yet, the process of living requires us to show up with a sensitivity to that which is occurring and respond to this intelligently. This means coming up with original ways. Consider that the folks at Zappos went against conventional advice. Consider that Steve Jobs also did the same. Do you remember what folks said about Apple’s move into smartphones, or the format of their stores? Consider that The John Lewis Partnership is one of the few large organisation that is employee owned (through a trust). Again, going against conventional practice.
Enough for today, I thank you for your listening. If you disagree with that which I have shared then I ask you to share your thoughts by commenting.
Image via flickr