Recently, a consulting company which specializes in software and research for voice of the prospect, customer, and employee issued a blog which hypothesized that customer understanding is more important than, and needs to come before, customer centricity.
Their rationale for this position was clients had been asking them to conduct transactional surveys before having an in-depth understanding of customer needs and behaviors. They offered three reasons why this is important:
– Understanding customers can help segment the customer base and prioritize each segment for action and resource allocation, enabling targeting and focus of key experience elements
– Understanding customers can help design experiences that go beyond the functional, and focus on the emotional
– Understanding customers can help direct an experience strategy that provides a competitive advantage
From our perspective, this hypothesis, and the reasoning behind it, isn’t wrong – – but it is fairly shortsighted. Every company interested in becoming more customer-centric is at some stage in that evolution of the enterprise, from naïve to natural, beginning with tactical awareness and passive relationships and moving toward strategic, organization-wide customer obsession that is part of the enterprise DNA.
In the naïve, or general awareness stage, customers are known, but only in the aggregate. At this stage, the organization believes it understands customer needs, measurement of stakeholder behavior is rudimentary or transactional, if it exists at all. Further, management is hierarchical, with chimneyed and siloed communication, and little evidence of teaming.
As companies move toward customer obsession, they develop more sensitivity with regard to stakeholders. There is more focus on service (such as problem/complaint management). Customer measurement techniques, however, are largely attitudinal and functional, with little emphasis on emotional and/or relationship drivers. Culturally and structurally, management still operates from a traditional hierarchy.
With increased focus, customers become both known and valued, down to the individual level. At this stage, customers are recognized as having varied needs; and service and other experience elements are enterprise priorities, with more proactive communication and collaboration. And, management is moving to a more horizontal, perhaps even matrixed, structure.
At the highest level of customer-centricity, stakeholder needs, wants and expectations are well understood throughout the enterprise. Everyone’s job includes providing value to customers, or providing support for someone who provides value. Loyalty behavior is paramount, and optimal customer relationships are a key priority. Management structure is extremely horizontal, with emphasis on customer inclusion and teaming.
All of this is by way of saying that any organization seeking to become fully customer-centric need not delay its progress by first having a full understanding of the customers, and the nuances of their decision-making behavior, in order to reach this ever-evolving goal. How? Stephen Covey advised us to become more effective by ‘”sharpening the saw.” My personal preferences, however, come from the philosophically deep Broadway show, Spamalot: “Set your mind on what to find, and there’s nothing you can’t do” (The Lady Of The Lake) and “Trim your sail. You won’t fail. Find your grail. Find your grail”. (Kind Arthur).
Isn’t customer centricity, not just customer understanding, the grail every enterprise should be seeking?