Every one of us is a customer, so "Customer-Centricity" should be a very simple topic to understand. What do you, as a customer, think it means for those you buy from to be customer-centric? For me, it means they "get me" to the extent that I can easily access and use their offering that helps me do something in my life/business. Just stick with that statement and the gems are there:
- "Easily" typically means without much cost as burdens in time, worry, effort and financial aspects
- "Access and use" typically means both finding the solution that helps me get something done and using to get something done (pre-purchase and post-purchase)
- "Helps me get something done" typically means that whatever I buy is a means to an end. I’m just trying to live my life and run my business.
Note that as a customer it's all about me. Sure, I may like to provide feedback to my suppliers, but typically because I hope it will help me in the future — or at least help a fellow human being not experience the pain that I might have experienced. And this is the foundational fallacy of most CRM/CEM/NPS/C-Sat/etc. endeavors: companies tend to ask questions from their perspective, to map the customer journey from the company's perspective, to incent employees from the company’s perspective, and on and on — NOT from the customer’s perspective.
To be customer-centric, companies need to simply see things the way customers see them, and center their daily decision-making accordingly, with all other aspirations being secondary to — or within the context of — seeing things the way customers see them.
Why would it behoove a company to be customer-centric? Because customers enable the monetary machine. Shareholders leave when customers leave, not the other way around. When companies align with customers, they abandon non-value-add and wasteful efforts, policies, processes, behaviors, time, and costs. And alignment helps customers sense that the company gets them, leading to organic customer evangelism: retention, share of wallet, positive word-of-mouth … company growth.
The book Firms of Endearment (by Sisodia, Sheth & Wolfe) explains how "endearing companies tend to be enduring companies". To identify the firms of endearment (FoE), the authors asked a broad sample of people which companies they love, and then worked backward to identify those companies' collective, distinctive set of core values, policies, and operating attributes — and then their return on equity — amazing findings resulted. The FoE list includes the usual suspects, and then some: Amazon, BMW, Caterpillar, Google, Harley Davidson, IDEO, IKEA, JetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, LL Bean, REI, Trader Joe’s, UPS — to name a few. "They actively align the interests of all stakeholder groups, not just balance them … and can do seemingly contradictory things such as pay high wages, charge low prices, and get higher profitability." Indeed, the financials seal the deal: "the public FoEs returned 1,026 percent for investors over the 10 years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500; that’s more than a 8-to-1 ratio! Over a 10-year horizon, FoEs outperformed the Good to Great companies by a 3.1-to-1 ratio." While the customer-centricity journey for these firms is still underway, they do stand out from their peers in seeing things the way customers see them, and centering their daily decision-making accordingly.
Don't Bastardize Customer-Centricity
When the term "Customer-Centricity" is used it is frequently mis-used! It’s over-used in an attempt to varnish self-serving approaches. Claims of customer-centricity are too often stated from the faulty perspective of companies. Hence, many people view this as a buzz word, jargon, something fleeting, a misguided concept. Your company can become customer-centric, but not just by saying it. This term entails deep and broad substance. Please don’t say it if it's not really in the fabric of your culture.
Customer-centricity is not a way of interacting; it’s a way of life that must transcend the front-line to incorporate the ripple effect of hand-offs across the entire internal value chain enterprise-wide. Mom-and-pop businesses typically find this to be a necessary way of doing business, but when a firm's management expands, it tends to become self-focused. Marketers, engineers, accountants, and everyone else in the value chain will only be customer-centric when they view their roles as advocates for what’s important to customers — when they put other aspirations first, they’ll always be at odds with customers and create waste, distrust, and ill will. These negatives aren’t initiated by customers, they’re created by people within the company.
Customer-centricity is a culture that prevents non-value to customers, and at the same time maximizes value to customers. In a customer-centric culture, well-being of employees and shareholders is pursued within the context of doing what's right for customers. This holds true for both B2B and B2C. Very few companies have ever been truly customer-centric. But let's get real: since YOU are a customer, you do know what it should really mean.
Contact the author, Lynn Hunsaker, to find out how to customize these practices to your situation.