Customer-Centricity: Going “Back to the Brand” Is NOT the Answer

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As the blogosphere obsesses over customer centricity, there’s a contrarian school of thought that goes something like this: “It’s impossible for a company to be customer-centric, because customers have too many individual demands, and all those demands cannot possibly be satisfied.” One writer suggested it is time to “go back to the brand” and focus on what the company wants to accomplish.

In other words, do what you do naturally! Do what you’ve always done! Do what you love to do: Make it all about you!

Terrible advice.

First of all, it’s a total lie that “customers have too many individual demands.” Thousands of conversations with my clients’ customers (and other great research, such as the “top website tasks” studies conducted by Gerry McGovern) have convinced me that customers have always have top five needs in common.

Second, and significantly, these top needs can always be met by the company’s managers. I know this because I have helped hundreds of clients learn what these needs are and then meet them. They are never, ever impossible. Not even close.

Customers don’t expect the impossible – they expect the company to be reasonable about everything. That’s all.

Bottom line: Meet these top needs, and you will be a “customer-centric” company.

So what’s the real reason this doesn’t happen? Because company managers don’t know what those top needs are. They think they know. They decide what customer top needs are (or ought to be), then talk endlessly about those needs amongst themselves. Never being exposed to anything else, they convince themselves that these assumptions are correct. They are wrong.

When a CEO brings me in, the first thing I hear is the company story, including what the top managers think is important to customers. It is a prioritized list. It always makes sense and sounds perfectly reasonable. The company’s managers have been making decisions based on this list.

Then I go out and interview their customers. They tell me what’s important to them. It’s a prioritized list. And is it ALWAYS different than the company’s list. So the decisions the managers are making are based on false assumptions and flawed data, which, of course, leads to flawed decisions. Decisions that drive customers away.

The best way to find out what your customers are thinking – and what future customers want from you – is to ask your current customers what that they think and what they want. That’s the straightforward path to customer-centricity. You won’t find the answer looking within. The answer isn’t there.

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