Customer-centricity: A puzzle or a problem?


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Your commitment to customer-centricity isn’t the issue; it’s how you go about it that creates a stir.

Is it a puzzle or a problem?

You’re thinking, ‘What’s the difference?‘ You may even find yourself responding, “We know we need to be more customer-centric. People should either get on the train, get off or get out of the way!”

And that reflects thinking about it as if it were a puzzle.

Puzzles have one correct answer. Think Sodoku. Follow the rules and you get to the answer. And there is only one right answer. The differences are between those who can vs. those who can’t solve the puzzle and how fast you get there.

Problems are impacted by how your frame the elements of the problem. Definition and judgment come in at the front end. A different set of inputs framing the problem lead you down a different road. That means you can have multiple correct answers.

Some would say that the business practice of accounting is concerned with the puzzle of tracking and reporting monetary events; finance is about first framing the problem you want to address. These can be complementary approaches, but that isn’t always the case.

Another good example of the contrast can be found in Malcolm Gladwell‘s article, Connecting the dots, on the paradox of intelligence reform. Seen as a puzzle, intelligence reform leads to more searches and the elimination of individual protections that appear to be barriers to intelligence gathering. Seen as a problem, intelligence reform requires a greater level of reflection and learning as the issues evolve. The answer is less cut and dry.

When fostering customer-centricity, we tend to treat deployment of large-scale initiatives as puzzles. Certainly we see that from many managers; it’s also what you might conclude perusing the mass-market books available. There is a ‘correct point of view’ regarding customer centricity; dialogue is encouraged only when it is aligned with that point of view; dissent is viewed as resistance or ‘not getting it’. This approach promotes greater uniformity of the core intent toward customers; it offers increased speed of actions toward customers and customer-facing operations.

The puzzle approach begins to fall down where there are shades of gray in how to display customer-centricity. It falls down where there are additional organizational values (profit, revenue, employee-centeredness, and so on) that have not been addressed in the urgency to become customer-centric. These competing values get buried for a while, only to later surface at a later time.

Think about the conversations you have been part of revolving around customer-centricity, whether with clients, colleagues, or your own staff. Think about the Linked In discussion threads you read on the topic and the books you read. Are they advocating a specific way to solve the puzzle, or are they seeking to first engage you in ways to frame and articulate the problem?

How have you approached fostering a more customer-centric workplace, as a puzzle or a problem?

BestCustomerConnection, by Marc Sokol

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Marc Sokol
A psychologist with an eye for the ways organizational dynamics make it possible or impossible to delight customers, I see the world from the eyes of customers, employees and leaders who strive to transform customer experience.


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