The Proper Order of Things in a Customer-Centric World

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As always, I write this from the vantage point of a CRM consultant.

It has been said that no framework is perfect, but some are useful. Of course, selecting the right framework depends on which level you desire to compete. Following the hype cycles of newly packaged ideas, with an emphasis on creative presentation, however, can get anyone into trouble. Consultants in the CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Transformation, Service Design, Service Innovation spaces (etc.) don’t always get it right.



Frameworks that don’t understand the proper order of the world may get you excited; but they will certainly not carry you very far into the future. The world hasn’t changed, but the way we should view it has certainly evolved. Have you?

The Common Order of Things

  1. Select a market based on an existing product or service category
  2. Segment that market across non-useful attributes such as demographics, firmographics, etc.
  3. Create Personas for corporate consumers of our product or service, or aligned with internal corporate functions
  4. Create corporate customer journeys aligned with the use of existing products or services
  5. Develop table stake capabilities that align with activities that align to common vendor toolsets

This is what most CRM client companies do. It makes sense because it’s what their competitors are probably doing. Of course, this makes it extremely difficult to understand why/how that one company is kicking everyone’s butt. The analysis of such winners uses the lens of what is known; which is only the current solution, and misleading attributes that define the market and segments. This is often the point when words like engagement and customer experience come pouring out of the marketing department – “That Company must be engaging more!!!” When asked what that means, the answer often uses words like engage or experience.

I don’t know about you, but that wreaks of confusion to me.

As someone who still uses the term customer-centric, I often think about that term and ask myself “why does everyone continue to focus on themselves?” A lot of people use the term, and then continue doing things company-centric. Part of the answer might involve inertia. For example, there is nothing revolutionary about one more car brand. There might be something revolutionary about the fuel a car uses; such as electricity. But it’s still a car, and does the functional job of transporting me from point A to point B just like my gas guzzler. In fact, it probably does the job worse today due to some of the inconveniences; which is made up for with some folks around the social and emotional jobs they need to get done. I’m not in those social or emotional camps.



However, Tesla has been doing something innovative in the service side of the business; which could just as easily be employed by manufactures of gas guzzlers. They could sell direct to the consumer, in-real-life or over the Internet. No more of that dealer dance as they try to Hoover as much money out of your wallet as possible with their little tricks. I could purchase a car the way I want to, when I want to, and where I want to if the distribution model would just be allowed to change. To me, Tesla understands some very important unmet needs of mine and they are trying to change the way things work. Unfortunately, there are forces working against them. I’m certain this will be resolved and the impact will be great for the consumer; not so great of the granddaddies.

Related forces also affect other types of industries. For instance, we purchase solutions that exist in the market (such as CRM software), and how we acquire and pay for advertising usually aligns to channels and segmentation that are considered to be standard. If you were to try to do it any other way, you might find the cost to be prohibitive. Thus, you might need to innovate there as well; creating new ways to go to market. Sounds like a lot of work, so we just go with the flow; and get the results we deserve by doing so.

The Proper Order of Things

If you were to do things in a customer-centered way, our view of the world would need to change. The order in which things are done would also need to change. What we do would also need to change. Here are a few simple things that I think we all should keep in the front of our minds:

  1. Our purpose should be to understand table stake customer needs and serve them satisfactorily; and then seek unmet customer needs and serve them before / better than the competition. This might mean we stop selling what we sell, or add new services that wouldn’t traditionally make sense. “Needs” <> “Features”
  2. Our customers have jobs to get done. These jobs are a process; which includes making a buying decision all the way through product use and disposal. It is not a journey since the process is solution agnostic, and so are the needs. Customer Journey’s assume they will seek our solution. There are no momentums of truth. The entire process is a truth that most of us don’t know; even for a moment.
  3. Within these customer jobs / processes, there are many needs, and when measured tell us how well the job is getting done
  4. If we seek it, we will find that not all customers performing a job, have the same set of needs. They perform the job in different contexts.
  5. These differing groups are segments, and should be the basis of product/service modifications, and persona development. A persona will not look like “Sales Administrator” since it will be about the customer, not the seller (at least not until we get to the consumption chain; but first things first).
  6. These segments may require different resource exchanges across various touch points – you need to understand how value is co-created at these points, and how that contributes to the overall experience.
  7. Our process of marketing, selling and servicing customers must align perfectly with the customer’s process making a buying decision, acquiring the product and using the product. We must not design our customer’s process first; that is simply not customer-centric in the CRM world. We must understand our customer’s customer’s process first. Make sense yet? I know, it’s awkward.
  8. Breakthrough improvements in service cannot be created if the focus is only on our customer (as consultants). They will only come when we focus on our customer’s customer first.
  9. Sustaining improvements on a service that is not aligned with the customer’s process is doing efficient ineffectiveness.
  10. Aligning our customers’ service to the needs of their customer is more valuable, even if it begins as inefficient effectiveness. The correct (effective) service can then be continuously improved.


That’s my simple take. I’ve left out partner networks and the design of company processes (with internal customers); but it all kind of works the same way.

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