Becoming More Customer-Centric in 2015: Learning to Take Insightful Stock, Calculated Risk, and Positive Action


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As we move into 2015, there is a state of mind many of us enter at every year-end and year-beginning. That state of mind is common to both individuals and enterprises, especially where true focus on customer experience optimization and customer-centricity are concerned. What should we be doing to understand customers better, to be more proactive, and to create more productive and real-world action in our decision-making? For a little perspective on these questions, I’m going back to 1982, and to Peters and Waterman’s seminal business book, In Search of Excellence.

Walking past for the moment the fact that, to some, the book’s choice of 43 companies – NCR, Wang Labs, and others – appeared somewhat questionable (and that, in 2001, Peters “confessed” to Fast Company magazine that elements of their data had been ‘faked’), the book laid out eight themes which identified excellent organizations. One of these, perhaps the most important where attaining customer centricity and customer advocacy behavior are concerned, was having a strong orientation, or bias, for getting things done.

In building and sustaining that bias for action, Peters and Waterman called for a reduction in organizational complexity, more aggressive review of problems, greater focus on learning and insight, and a move to adhocracy. Never heard of adhocracy? Long story short, adhocracy is an organizational theory, first coined by Warren Bennis in 1968, which emphasizes the removal of bureaucracy in favor of a more flexible, organic, fluid, responsive, informal and adaptive culture, structure, and customer-related processes.

There’s a lot of creativity and innovation in such companies, especially where products, services and customers are concerned; and, when initiatives are defined, programs and projects get done faster in an adhocratic organizations. In companies which have reached the highest levels of customer-centricity, or ‘natural’ as we would define them, these organizations are also largely decentralized and horizontal, and often obsessively focused on providing optimal customer value.

Organizational fluidity means there is a lot more informal and open communication, insight generation, data sharing, and MBWA (management by walking around). To help facilitate this desired fluidity, these companies tend to use more virtual technology for staying in contact. Anyone looking at how adhocratic companies operate would see a culture which actively seeks out customer value opportunities, shares good and bad customer news, fragments responsibilities, leverages both ad hoc and permanent teams, and gives positive reinforcement for taking pathfinding, but considered, action.

Adhocratic, customer-centric companies not only have a bias for action, they seem to be endlessly experimenting, trying new ideas out, or as Peters and Waterman would say: “Do it, try it, fix it.” These experiments, often quick in and quick out, are like the Manhattan Project, when the atomic bomb was developed during World War II – marked by focused leadership, management by objectives, individual accountability, use of concentrated data, building on success, and learning from ‘tries’ and shortfalls.

At the end of the day (or the year), for many organizations, having a bias and an orientation for customer-centric action, i.e. do it, try it, fix it, means a shift in thinking, culture, structure, and operations. Companies less bold and daring will be at continuing risk. As Lee Iacocca famously said: “So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late.” He also said: “Lead, follow or get out of the way”. Companies with less of a bias for customer-focused action will, increasingly, find themselves following or getting out of the way. In an uncertain world, that is pretty much a certainty.

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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