Innovation Management Wisdom

Customer Centricity on Your Ridiculist?

May 22nd, 2012

Does anyone take that “We are Customer Centric” poster seriously? Customer centricity is an abstraction bordered by platitudes like “we listen”. So, what makes organizations truly customer centric?

“Centricity” implies focusing your attention on someone and responding in a relationship-nurturing way.

Does someone requiring 100% of your attention all day fit in your life? We have to divide our time among spouses, children, bosses, colleagues and friends.

So, when someone hangs a poster in the copy room that says, “We are Customer Centric,” a Dilbert cartoon flashes across my mind.

No one in a corporate office can be customer centric.

If we were, we’d get fired.

Our job descriptions tell us our roles in organizations. Customer centricity might be mentioned. But, most of our time is spent responding to colleagues, bosses and internal deadlines. Not customers, at least not directly.

Imagine a coworker in marketing or accounting who is customer centric all the time. You’ve repeatedly asked him for that report. He’s not actually ignoring you. It’s just that he’s “customer centric”, not you-centric.

How long do you think it would take for this person to be voted off your company’s island?

As consultants, we have to schedule innovation workshops with executive leaders one to three months in advance. That’s because executives’ calendars are chock full of organization centric updates, discussions and emails. That’s not a result of negligence on the part of these leaders. It just reflects the complexities of managing large organizations.

This brings me to my second point.

Customer centricity can only happen for a few, rare moments. You have to make the most of them.

We have worked with more than forty Fortune 500 companies innovating new products, services and experiences. What we have consistently found that no one in them is customer centric all the time. Numerous constituencies, such as coworkers, stockholders, vendors, partners and regulatory agencies, constantly vie for executives’ time.

At best, a handful of executives might devote a few hours each week to customers. Sure, these people are customer centric during those hours. But, for an organization to grow in a customer centric way, there usually needs to be robust, repeatable processes for integrating executive sponsorship, deep customer insight and methods for launching customer-winning ideas.

For most management teams, customer centricity is possible only in fleeting moments. For an organization to grow based on acting on a deep understanding of customers, these moments have to catapult you toward tangible business gains.

For our clients, this catapult usually follows this arc:

1.    Prioritize specific business outcomes and customer behaviors that will drive growth
2.    Learn what triggers desired customer behaviors
3.    Conceive, test and refine new experiences in a fast-pace, agile development process
4.    Show leaders results at every step and sustain executive sponsorship

We operate on several fronts on behalf of our clients: customer experience research, concept design and agile program management, for example…which brings me to my last point.

Executive sponsorship is needed to advance innovation efforts quickly in compressed time frames…otherwise, you won’t get very far.

It’s common for customer centric initiatives to be assigned to teams of mid-level functional managers. Executives take a wait and see approach. These new “customer centricity teams” can come up with some pretty heroic and creative ideas.

But, ideas die quickly.

Ideas evoke mixed reactions among executives, who filter them through their respective lenses. Without clear connections to targeted business outcomes, even the best ideas have little chance of surviving an executive team’s scrutiny.

If you’re committed to improving your customer experience to achieving real business results, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

Jason M. Sherman is president of Cleveland-based, Whyze Group. Whyze Group is a leading provider of customer- and user-experience research and innovation workshops to Global 2000 clients. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation.

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Jason direct: (440) 785-0547.

Entry Filed under: Facilitating Change,Innovation Workshops

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