On Being Customer Centric


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Customer Centricity is a hot topic these days.  I get on my soapbox on Customer Focus, Customer Experience, How Buying Is Changing, and various aspects of being Customer Centric.  As a result, I get a lot of calls and queries about being Customer Centric.  To tell you the truth, many of them are very disturbing.  They often go something like this (this composite, actually understates what I’ve experienced).

Caller:  My organization has to be more customer centric.

Dave:  Cool, what’s driving this initiative?

Caller:  My boss has told us we have to do this.

Dave:  OK, that’s interesting.  Why does he say that you need to be more customer centric?

Caller:  I don’t know, he just told us to figure it out and to become more customer centric.

Dave:  Hmmm….. What do your customers think about their experience with you?

Caller:  I don’t know, we don’t have the time to talk to them.  Maybe you can do that for us.

Dave:  Well, we can certainly survey your customers and get their views, but part of customer centricity is connecting with your customers better—engaging them—-listening to them.  Do you have any sense of what they are saying?

Caller :  (I start hearing some frustration in his voice)  I understand what you say, but we’re just too busy.  I need to respond to my boss, can you help us?

Dave:  Well, can you tell me what you are looking for?

Caller:  Well we just need to know how to be more customer centric.  Can you tell us what programs we need to put in place and what the investment would be.  It’s important that we measure how we are doing, perhaps you can design a customer centricity dashboard for us?  Could you tell us what others are doing so we can copy them?  Maybe you can give us a short seminar?

I’ll stop here.

On the one hand, I like the calls, they represent great opportunities for us.  On the other hand, I worry about these calls. 

There are many things we do to help organizations understand their customers, better focus on their customers, engage their customers, and the list can go on.  But customer centricity is not a set of programs and initiatives an organization implements.   It is not a new set of metrics.  Customer centricity is a state of mind, it’s a set of values, it’s a culture all focused on serving the customer.

When I look at truly customer centric companies, the programs, initiatives and metrics are not that different from those organizations that are not customer centric.  But what makes them different is how they embed the “voice of the customer” into everything they do.

All companies have new product development processes.  Customer centric companies embed customers into the development—whether it’s customer councils, customer participation in phase reviews, customers participating in the development—the footprints of customers are all over the development process.

All companies have customer problem resolutions processes.  Customer centric companies worry about “what’s best for the customer,” others worry about “what’s best for the company.”  Customer centric companies actually listen to what comes up and change policies, practices, processes to reduce problems.  Others “manage the issue.”

All companies have websites, they all talk about their customers at the web site.  Customer centric companies celebrate their customers at the web site, they talk about their success, they congratulate them.   Their annual reports are filled with stories of customer successes.

Stories about customers abound in customer centric companies.  In meetings, when they talk about customers, they use actual customer names—individuals, companies.  In companies that are not customer centric, they talk about the customer in abstract terms—they call them “the customer,” not Jill Smith at XYZ company.  Sometimes they don’t even talk about the customer, but focus on themselves, their products, their operations.

Customer centric companies sometimes make customers unhappy—as do others.  But customer centric companies always embed a customer perspective in every decision.  Customer centric companies communicate to the customers the rationale behind the decisions, recognizing that some won’t like the decision.

Metrics are important in customer centric companies—just as they are in every organization.  Customer focused metrics are things like:  Sales, profitability, growth, customer share, market share, customer retention, customer acquisition, customer satisfaction, warranty returns, days outstanding/age on receivables, employee satisfaction and the list goes on.  Other organizations measure the same things.

But why aren’t the measures different?  The answer is simple, Customer Centricity is good business!  Let’s just use good business metrics to determine how we are performing.

Companies don’t become customer centric by implementing new programs and initiatives.  Companies don’t become customer centric by implementing new metrics.

Companies become customer centric by embedding the customer perspective—the voice of the customer—into everything they do, every day.  Customer centricity is a set of values, a frame of mind.  Within an organization, it is embodied by a culture focused on listening to the customer, engaging the customer, considering the customer in everything they do.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Right on the mark, Dave. I especially like your observation that “customer centric companies always embed a customer perspective in every decision”.

    It’s strange: although customers are the source of executives and employees’ paychecks, a customer-focused way of life in the company often takes a backseat to internal politics, quarterly financial reports, etc.

    In fact, too many efforts, including customer programs, ironically, are self-centered for the company. I have a complimentary worksheet that helps managers assess the customer centricity of their programs and initiatives.

    Somehow, managers often fall into the trap of thinking that customer experience is something that the marketing and service organizations create. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as you so nicely point out.

    Here’s to more managers seeing the light. According to a recent report from Forrester, in 2010, executives report a lack of customer experience strategy as their biggest weakness to customer experience success.

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.


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