Innovation Management Wisdom

Customer Centricity on Your Ridiculist?

May 22nd, 2012

Does anyone take seriously that poster about customer centricity hanging over the copier?

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

That ex you dated in school and who demanded your attention all the time didn’t work out. Most of us have to divide our attention among our siblings, spouses, children, in laws, bosses, colleagues…and customers.

So, when someone hangs a poster in the copy room that says, “We are Customer Centric,” I have an out of body experience. I envision myself standing in a Dilbert cartoon.

This brings me to my first point.

No one can be customer centric all the time.

If you were, you’d get fired.

Our job descriptions tell us how we fit in the organization. Customer centricity might be mentioned. But, the bulk of our job responsibilities consist of responding to colleagues, bosses and deadlines. Not customers.

Imagine a coworker in marketing, IT, accounting or production 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. His boss gets the same treatment.

How long do you think it would take for this guy to be voted off the island?

The only exceptions might be sales people and customer service reps. If I have to borrow someone’s watch, I’ll hunt around for a Timex in sales or customer service. Those employees deal with customers every day and know the most about what they go through.

Back to our job descriptions…

We have to schedule client executives for slivers of customer centricity one to three months in advance. That’s because executives’ calendars are chock full of organization centric meetings, projects, emails and reports.

It takes weeks to schedule a workshop. This brings me to my second point.

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

My job is to make moments of customer centricity payoff in these ways:
1.    Align managers on what they need to know
2.    Imbue them with an accurate, empathetic understanding of what customers go through
3.    Identify opportunities to surprise, attract and retain customers
4.    Resolve misalignments that could undermine innovation efforts
5.    Frame and prioritize customer experience improvements
6.    Plan and implement initiatives

If this were easy, everyone could do it. I’d be out of a job. It’s not easy. It’s hard because we have limited time to make progress at each step.

We also need to apply several skills simultaneously: customer experience research, change management, strategic planning and business process design, for example…which brings me to my last point.

Delegating customer centricity to people who can’t advance innovation efforts in compressed time frames won’t get your organization very far.

Often, customer centricity is assigned to a functional area with a deep, narrow portfolio of skills. Marketing research, customer service or human resources are common assignees. The new “customer centricity department” will put more meetings on your calendar. They may hang nice posters in your copy rooms. They may report on their heroic efforts, which will delight your executive team.

But, their chances of marshaling organizational resources to innovate anything meaningful to customers are remote…possibly near Pluto.

Customer centricity is a momentary, shared state of empathy with customers. Creating and leveraging these moments depends on unique combinations of skills and methods. They also require that the highest levels of leadership be engaged and energized by rapid progress.

If you’re committed to customer centricity as inspiration for improving your customer experience, please contact me…when you can find a minute.

Jason M. Sherman is president of Cleveland-based, Whyze Group. Whyze Group is a leading provider of qualitative, 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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