Customer-Centricity Versus Customer-Alignment: Puppy Love Versus the Real Thing

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What we now call “customer-centricity”- among numerous other names – really does remind me of puppy love. It’s like adolescent infatuation – all the right intentions but only an inch deep. Unfortunately, among the numerous other names commonly used in place of “customer-centricity” is “customer-alignment,” as occurred in a blog post yesterday. Incorrectamundo. The difference between the two terms is far more than semantic.

Customer-centricity goes to intent and motives. Companies – smart companies at least – aspire to be “customer-centric.” Customer-centricity is rapidly becoming a widely applauded business goal, whereas just a few years ago most business execs considered it a second cousin to suicide, or perhaps a first cousin. However, intent and motives readily become warm fuzzies. Stuff we talk about incessantly but never really get around to doing. Like losing weight. Or quitting smoking. Or giving up “push” marketing or primary reliance on branding. Which is why every time I hear or read “customer-centricity,” my bovine waste matter detector springs into action, and my thoughts go to, “Yeah, like you really mean it?” Or, “What do you really mean?”

Customer-alignment – in contrast – is neither intent nor motive and especially not a goal. It’s the blood sweat and tears without which customer-centricity never becomes a reality. Think of customer alignment this way: 1.) A company starts with customer-centric business strategies, the cornerstone of customer-centricity; 2.) Realizing that trying to adopt new strategies without changing how work is done represents “doing the same things over and over again but expecting different outcomes,” the company realigns business process, how work is done, to support customer-centric strategies; and 3.) recognizing that in-place technologies won’t properly support new process, the company adapts system architecture and adopts new automation software to align with new, customer-centric process.

Greatly resembles the difference between surface emotions and all the work involved in building and maintaining mature relationships. Companies (and individuals) have affairs with customer-centricity, most of them fleeting. But you know they’re serious when they dig down deep and start customer alignment.

So let’s stop confusing the two, which I confess I’ve lapsed into when writing in order to avoid too many repetitions of “customer-alignment” or “customer-aligned.” We all, myself included, need to be much more careful not to confuse commitment with infatuation.

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