Over the past 20 years or more, the term customer-centricity term has died and risen numerous times. Each time it rises from its own ashes like the phoenix, it takes on a completely new meaning. In fact, the meaning has never changed; but the solutions designed to address it have — and they have done so with a complete lack of understanding.
It is not even in the spell-checker by default
Generally, we hear about customer-centricity through the various approaches that emerge that attempt to address it. Here are a few examples:
- 360 degree View
- Voice of the Customer
- Big Data
- Customer Experience
- Customer Success
- Social Listening / Selling
They each fail to address the underlying problem: customers are trying to get something done; not interact with a brand. Voice of the customer advocates will tell you that customers have needs, and they are important — however, they can’t articulate their needs. There is no agreement amongst this crowd on what a customer need is; so it’s no wonder they think this way.
Customer Success has also been used as a proxy for customer-centricity. On it’s surface, companies will invest time and resources to engage the customer with free consulting services in order to lock-in that next sale, or subscription payment. But they are always asking “How are We Doing?” and not the more appropriate question, How are You Doing? And even if they were, again, there is no common agreement around the definition of a customer need.
The emergence of social got everyone excited by the belief that finally, we can peer into the needs of our customers and prospects. But again, this new focal point — along with its big brother, big data — looks back into a sea of unstructured data; with not agreed upon method for sorting into meaningful information. Even worse, it is most often viewed in the context of a specific product or service offering — which is clearly product-centric.
Customer-centricty has one chance
As I’ve evolved as a consultant, it’s become obvious to me that we have all been getting this wrong. CRM implementations are inevitably re-done (or dis-used) because either the wrong enabling technology was selected (no foresight), it improperly aligned to real, high-priority business problems, or the wrong problems were surfaced in the first place. At the end of the day, when no one can agree on what a need is, the highest-paid-person’s-opinion (HIPPO) prevails — which has the same success rate as founders and their start-ups.
The only path beyond this chaotic view of the customer is to understand what they are trying to accomplish in their lives, or businesses, in a clear step-by-step way. After all, we spend a lot of time transforming processes and measuring the the resulting activities. So, why wouldn’t you also want to understand the process a customer goes through to get something done?
…and I don’t mean a customer journey
Measuring the future is complementary to measuring the past. To do this, we need a common definition of customer need — one based on how customers measure success in accomplishing something — and a systematic means for understanding which needs are currently (and over time) unmet. This would allow us to design (and improve) the products and services of the future with consistent alignment to needs that customers want you to satisfy — even if they can’t articulate them.
This is what customer-centricity has always been about, and should to be about going forward.