A Customer-Centric Half-Decade


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Two decades ago, Taizo Watanabe, former director general for public information of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, and a keen observer of U.S. marketing, service, and business performance, made an incisive comment during an interview: “When a promise is made to Japanese consumers, it must be obseved. In Japan, the customers is god. When I was watching the movie ‘Back to the Future’, I was surprised to see that the U.S. in the ’50’s and Japan now share similar characteristics. People jumped to wash your windshield, and so on. But nobody does that in the U.S. today. In Japan, they still do. Something has changed in the U.S. in course of time.” That ‘something’ was focus on customer experience optimization. A wake-up call was needed; and we have witnessed growing focus on recognizing customer needs and providing more attractive and personalized performance. In many ways, the Internet’s role in conveying opinion put greater emphasis on perceived value. Customers were no longer willing to accept passive, commoditized product and service experiences and taken-for-granted relationships with suppliers.

Over the past several years, leading companies have entered a period of marketing and operational convergence, or intersection. During this time, those of us who actively follow, and consult in, such trends are witnessing significant multi-channel media application (and resultant omni-channel application by consumers), along with more effective and pervasive customer data gathering, analysis and application, a stronger enterprise-wide focus on customers, and recognition by senior executives that a dedicated high level function, supported by a team and sufficient resources, is needed to lead and manage the customer experience.

For many organizations, the 2010-2014 inclusive period has truly been a customer-centric half-decade, and we’ve seen enterprise customer experience focus customer-centricity become recognized as one of the most important operational challenges and opportunities for any organization. As an active blogger, addressing all things customer-centric, I’ve done my best to cover key issues; and it feels like these can be divided into five subject areas:

1. The Customer-Centric Organization – Evolution of the Chief Customer Officer role; the importance of experience optimization, trust, and customer partnering; leveraging service (including proactive complaint generation and resolution) and employee behavior

2. Customer and Brand Decision-Making and Influence – Word-of-mouth and brand bonding trends; loyalty program effectiveness; emotional connection between customer and company, and importance of strengthening relationships

3. Customer Behavior Measurement – Identification of which performance metrics work (messaging, operations, experience elements, etc.), and which have granular actionability shortcomings; application priorities

4. Big Customer Data – The leveraging value and required quality of customer data; predictive models and analytical challenges

5. Customer Strategy and Tactics (Branding, Communications, and Relationships) – Building ‘outside in’ customer advocacy through experience management; conjoining offline and online advertising, promotional, and social messaging; leveraging gamification and personalization

If knowledge – customer knowledge – is truly power, then ‘knowing’, i.e. understanding the continually changing state of needs and expectations is certainly more reflective of true customer focus. The late martial arts master and actor Bruce Lee wrote: “Knowledge is fixed in time, whereas knowing is continual. Understanding requires not just a moment of perception, but a continuous awareness, a state of inquiry without conclusion.” Staying on the martial arts theme (I was a third degree Tang Soo Do black belt, so these themes resonate with me), here’s a quote from the Hagakure, the book of the samurai: “It is not good to settle into a set of opinions. It is a mistake to put forth effort and obtain some understanding and then stop at that….Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, ‘This is not enough.'” From my perspective, Bruce and the ancient samurai lords had the right idea: Knowing, or at least making the effort to understand, is more effective than knowledge.

One of Albert Einstein’s iconic quotes reflects the complete dedication, of resources and values, needed for an organization to optimize its relationships with customers, and knowing what they value: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.” A little high-minded, perhaps, but also right on point; and my belief is that practitioners must consider the real-world implications of these contemporary, and powerful, customer-centric subjects.

Bottom line: As I’m relearning, and reinforcing earlier concepts of organizational effectiveness with customers, it has felt important to me to share perspectives and lessons with others. That has been, and continues to be, my motivation to be an active student in the university of enterprise customer-centricity and to write about what I observe.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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