Putting Your Customer at Center? Constrain Yourself, or..


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I’ve read many papers, blogs and articles telling me what being Customer Centric is all about. I agree with most of them when they provide lists of the differences between the product centric and the Customer centric organization. I also like more recent views that we are in need of a more balanced network centric approach, taking all stakeholder interests and roles in the value creation process into account, although I feel many continue to overlook the (importance of the) Customer’s role in that process. But this is not the essence of today’s post.

The importance of boundaries

My issue with the many views, explicit or implicit, on Customer Centricity, is that they always seem to tell you what you need to stop and start thinking of or doing, but they hardly discuss or let you know where the boundaries are. Or at least discuss the notion of boundaries and their importance.

As a result many organizations get stuck in Voice of the Customer programs because they do not know how to handle the abundance and variance of feedback they collect, exhausting their resources with too many things to focus on and too little meaningful results, for Customer and company. And as a result Customer Experience programs turn into action plans or campaigns trying to create a Disney-like WOW-experience on every touch-point or even create completely new ones where “old” ones continue “as is”. And as a result many continue to try please every (potential) Customer with a big enough wallet to come through the door and then throw away the key. And, last but not least, many continue to think it is important to exceed Customer’s needs, whereas the rise of the mini-laptop, among others, prove otherwise.

4 Constraints to take into account

Thus, we are in need of boundaries or constraints, to prevent us from being ineffective. Here are some constraints I’d like to take into account:

  • (Social) CRM tells me we need to focus on Customers with the highest (potential) engagement value
  • Customer Experience Management tells me we need to focus on the touch-points that contribute significantly to both Customer’s and company’s desired outcome
  • Service Dominant Logic tells me to focus on Co-creation of Value-in-use, for which “Customer jobs-to-be-done” is a good proxy
  • Lean start-up thinking tells me to get out there to test our hypotheses (or assumptions) to prevent late failure

My own logic tells me I need these constraints to prevent me from wasting my resources and/or capabilities, because I firmly believe wasting my resources will ultimately result in wasting my Customer’s resources (be it time, money, effort etc.) as well. And that, I believe, is far from Customer centric.

What are your boundaries to Customer Centricity?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Wim, this is a great post summarizing different factors at play in a truly customer-centric business. Clearly it’s not a simple as just do whatever your customers says they want.

    One factor I’d suggest is the competitive position. Potential opportunities should be assessed based on what competitors are doing, or likely to do.

    Another might be capabilities. Organizing around customer and/or company value only works if the company can execute (has the capabilities or can develop them).

    Thanks again for an insightful post.

  2. Thanks Bob,

    I agree with you that competitive position and capabilities provide important constraints in business..

    In perspective of Customer Centricity (or Customer Focus or Customer Orientation..) the first is very interesting, as companies have a tendency towards copying “best practices” or just copying practices of the competition.

    Whether this is a smart thing to do, should be subject considerations of the 4 constraints I mentioned above, as well as the Capability constraint you added..

    And it does make sense to take competitive action into account, if only to understand whether you are working on something that can differentiate you from the competition..

    Thx for two great additions to the list!


  3. Thanks, Wim, for reminding us that abundance often trumps efficiency. Not taking into account constraints first is like over-concentrating on the first step of the three-folds logic which underlies any productive decision-making: broaden, focus and deliver.


  4. Wim,
    High above the issues of daily efficiency or open wallets, there are a few fundamental questions all companies must answer:

    Who is our target customer? (as you note, not all with an open wallet, but those who will drive sustainable profit)

    What problem can we solve for them better than anyone else? (the customer experience must be designed to do this)

    What position in the market place do we want to occupy?

    These questions seem basic but often they are fiendishly difficult to agree upon. Companies that clearly answer and then keep true to their course are the ones that are most successful. I love your concept of constraints – a kind of guardrail that can keep us on the road. With these answers as an “end in mind” customer centric decisions can become natural.

    Thanks for a provocative post, Wim. LCI

  5. Wim,

    I think the constraints conversation could prove even more instructive in the context of the objectives of the customer and the objectives of the company, as they Exchange Value with one another.

    What are the objectives of the customer? Is Company Centricity one of them? Similarly, what are the objectives of the company?

    Hope the above will help advance this important conversation.




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