Customer centricity IS the problem.


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Author and storyteller Garrison Keillor, in his Tales From Lake Wobegon, describes his quiet hometown on the prairie as a place where “all the men are strong, all the woman are good-looking, and the children are all above average.”


Just as the residents all consider their children “above average,” so too do most marketers consider themselves as “customer centric.” And I have no doubt they truly believe it.

Too often, though, the kind of “customer centricity” they are talking about is at odds with what their consumers and prospects would consider “customer centric.” This point was brought home nearly a decade ago when Bain & Co. surveyed hundreds of major corporations. They were asked one question: “Do you consider your organization as offering exceptional customer experience?” Then Bain asked those companies’ customers a companion question: “Would you consider (COMPANY) as offering exceptional customer experience”?

Not surprisingly, 80% of marketers agreed with their statement. More surprising, though, was that only 8% of their customers agreed.

So why the disconnect? One possible answer is that marketers’ idea of an “exceptional experience” is often not the same as their customers’. My observation is that most marketers would describe “customer centricity” this way: “When our customers have a concern or problem, and bring it to us, we do whatever we can to make the situation right for them and have them leave a satisfied customer.”

The-squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease approach to customer centricity. We’re customer centric when the situation dictates it. What more could you ask?

Today, things are a bit more complex. Consumers have taken control of the buying process. So marketers themselves are generally getting involved way later in the purchase process than they used to. You hanging around them throughout the process is not what they want. Your role now (as expected by the modern day consumer) is to be available to fill in the gaps, to anticipate where consumers could use a little help, and above all, to fulfill the transaction in a timely, reliable, convenient way.

It’s not about helping customers when they’ve hit a rough patch. It is about designing the experience so they avoid the rough patches all together.

In fact, customer centricity today could be described as a paradox: while much planning and detailed systems may go into it, to the consumer it looks effortless. Totally transparent. Think about A good number of its customers would describe the company as “customer centric” even though there’s no way to contact a living breathing human if you need one. It’s because the folks behind Amazon know what people’s expectations and trepidations are, and they design the experience to fit them. The Amazon experience is designed to build trust and confidence through every transaction.

Just as in the case of Amazon, the only real way at achieving today’s consumer’s notion of customer centricity is to get to know your customer intimately. Know what their personal “path to purchase” looks like. Where they go to learn about products. And when they expect you to have a presence to offer assistance. And when they don’t, stay out of the way.

That means doing more than pouring through a binder of analytics trying to decipher consumer preference. In today’s marketing world there is no substitute for actually talking to your customers, through Voice Of The Customer surveys, user panels or lifestyle embedded research.

Proactive, yet invisible. If you must proclaim you are “customer centric,” it is like the women of Lake Wobegon claiming to be “good looking.” I’ll be the judge of that.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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