5 Ways Your Company Can Think Like a Start Up (and Get Closer to Your Customers)


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Customer-centricity is generally agreed to be the conscious decision of a company to (really) focus on the needs and behaviors of its customers.

This means moving well beyond the “customer first” lip service of most organizations (“Thank you for continuing to hold… You are a valued customer… Your satisfaction is our goal… All operators are currently assisting other customers…”) towards an actual re-orientation around customer wants and needs – and meeting those needs where, how and when customers want them.

closetoyourcustomersOf course, most established companies have spent years erecting barriers that prevent this from happening. Barriers such as existing processes and systems, organizational silos, corporate secrets and internal politics and compensation and rewards structures that don’t align with customer needs.

The thing is, barriers such as these impede the kind of innovation required to engage with and serve today’s ever-smarter customers. That’s why I’m suggesting you need to “think like a startup.”

Why? Because start-ups are expert at identifying customer pain points and inefficiencies in established businesses – and designing products and services laser-focused on resolving them. Your goal? To re-imagine “the way your industry works” – and get closer to your customers as a result. Here are five questions you can ask, to help you get there:

  • “If we had no infrastructure, no politics, no barriers, and no limitations, how would we exploit the status quo to radically change our business?
  • “How can we make existing “stupid” (static, dumb) touchpoints “smart” (interactive, connected)?
  • “How and where can we better leverage existing channels – or create new ones – to save our customers, time, money and effort?”
  • “How do we better connect with (and understand the needs of) our most valuable customers?”
  • “How and where can we leverage digital innovation to provide dramatically better service?”

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of similar questions. My point is, take a step outside the walls of your business, and look at your firm from the outside-in. Maybe incremental change is the only way you can begin. But begin you must.

In a world where nine out of 10 customers will leave after a single bad experience, there’s only one approach executives should embrace, and it’s as simple as this: Imagine new and innovative ways to respond to the needs of your customers, and make it a priority for your people.

You’ll drive value, change the competitive balance, better leverage existing assets, and create new ones while you’re at it. Put another way, you’ll conceive new ways to leapfrog your competitors by re-thinking generally accepted industry standards.

And you just might reinvent your business in the process.


  1. Michael: you’ve provided excellent questions to ask. But I find your portrait of start ups is glorified: “Because start-ups are expert at identifying customer pain points and inefficiencies in established businesses – and designing products and services laser-focused on resolving them.”

    Sometimes. But among start-ups I’ve worked with, this depiction more the exception than the rule. In fact, many start-ups begin with a “cool technology” or idea, and spend months (or longer) figuring out problems or pains on which to attach.

    When start-ups do find market traction, it’s often owing to the fact that the impediments you’ve illustrated in your excellent graphic aren’t there–a phenomenal competitive advantage for new market entrants.

    What amazes me, though, is how eagerly once-nimble companies put those impediments in place once customers are on board.


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