What leader or business doesn’t think that “customer-centricity” is important in operating better and innovating? That’s like asking “who doesn’t love puppies?” We ALL want to be customer-centric, likely say we put the customer first, but perhaps recognize that we could use a booster-shot to improve, become more consistent and see better results from customer-centricity.
But how do we improve our customer-centricity? That’s the question most leaders and organizations just skip over. Perhaps their answer is hiring a chief customer officer or having customer advocates. Good start - but that alone won’t put the customer at the center of everything you do. If I just say enough times “we put the customer first, it must be true”, right?
What’s your plan for building customer-centricity? If your goal is to lead and influence others to build an organization that is customer-centric, how might you do that? There are options & choices and many schools of thought, but here’s an agile approach to building the journey to customer-centricity.
Remind Me — What’s Customer Centricity?
Suggest re-reading this newsletter
At its broadest, the definition of customer-centricity is “to put the customer at the center of everything an enterprise does.”
The key recommended action was to write your definition of customer centricity — etch it jello, leaving open that this definition may likely evolve over time.
With this definition, write out three to five examples of where you are not customer-centric today, and three to five examples of what the future state of customer-centricity might look like — small stories showing what the situation might be and how a customer-centric strategy led to different options and decisions. Make these stories memorable and powerful. These are critical exercises to probe and explore what your ambition for customer centricity might be and highlight the gap to be covered. An understanding of your current state, your “point A”, your future state — your “point B”, helps bring to life what the gap and journey need to be.
That’s a great start. Here are some additional deliberate steps to increase customer-centricity in your team.
Principles to Build Customer-Centricity
Let’s talk about principles or general “rules of the road”. These principles are aspirational guidelines, “fundamental truths”, serving as the foundation for how we act in the future. Here’s a taste — a small set of what customer-centric principles might look like:
Effortless at Every Moment -- We aspire to make education, discovery, use, maintenance, and service of our product/service effortless for the customer at every moment of their customer journey. We have a sharp eye for spotting friction in the customer journey and work to eliminate the friction, even if this friction is beyond our direct control.
Customer Metrics -- We strive to have facts and metrics at the granular customer experience level to drive an effortless customer experience for every customer at every moment. We are always working to improve, innovate and make better use of metrics and SLAs to improve the customer experience.
Integrate Our Ecosystem -- We will proactively support and include the ecosystem in our mission of customer-centricity. Ideas can come from anywhere. We will co-invest and creatively invest in helping the ecosystem support our mission of customer-centricity.
Customer CentricityEverywhere -- Every process, function, team, and role in our organization plays a role in customer-centricity and should have an explicit understanding, definition, goals, metrics, and SLA’s written and aligned to these customer-centricity principles and pursuits.
Integrated into the Employee Experience -- We will integrate customer-centricity and the use of these principles in every phase and aspect of employee engagement — interviewing, hiring, training, reviews, promotions, mentoring, etc.
How many principles do you need? One principle can’t create the perspective and leaves too much open for interpretation. A well-intentioned principle like “we will always put the customer first” is not strong or actionable enough to create change. There is too much evaluation and interpretation required on how or when we put “the customer first” or what that means.
Mechanisms — How We Live the Principles
How do you live your principles? Wouldn’t it be great if we had a set of tools, habits, and practices to help put the principles into action and apply them appropriately and consistently? Defining, training, and using a consistent set of mechanisms to live your customer-centric principles is the daily practice largely enacting customer-centricity and making it part of our culture. What might a couple of mechanisms be — just so we can get a taste?
1. The Empty Chair — put an empty chair in your meetings in a very visible manner. This chair represents that your customer cannot be there to explain or argue, so it’s up to each of us to understand and represent the customer.
2. Voice of the Customer — a voice of the customer program brings together stakeholders to solve a customer-impacting issue that for some reason is not being addressed in the organization. Often times the customer service organization runs this program and the goals always remain the same — get to the root cause and take fast impact on the topic.
3. Start with the Customer Super Power — in any proposal or potential investment you might evaluate, start with and be specific about the specific benefits and use cases, the superpowers being brought to your customer. Try to articulate how you would measure the adoption and impact of this feature. List out current and specific points of friction — be specific, not generic.
Mechanisms need not be fancy or complex but do need to be defined, written, trained, and measured. They need to be used all the time. Senior leaders need to not just “attend”, but lead and insist on doing these in high-quality manners. Which transitions to the ultimate factor, either the accelerator or the decelerator on creating this change — leadership.
Leadership — Always the Catalyst
Wikipedia defines “leadership” as
Leadership is both a research area, and a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual, group or organization to "lead", influence or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations. U.S. academic environments define leadership as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task
Leadership is a skill and a process with the impact being that it influences others, for good or bad. If the organization is not organically customer-centric then it’s likely that key leaders will need to add skills supported by processes to enhance their capability.
I’m sometimes asked, “how long will it take to become customer-centric?”. I don’t know if the journey ever ends, but the time to your “point B” will be primarily defined by how big the gap is from your current orientation (your “point A”), and how well senior leaders incorporate all of these elements into how they lead. Significant progress is certainly attainable within a year.
Experiments to Test These Elements
It’s natural for executives to request certainty on the plan, the solution, and the payback. Instead of approaching with a waterfall-oriented plan, leverage an AGILE methodology or approach. Create a hypothesis about how to implement the principles and mechanisms, and then find fast ways to test the implementation and the concepts. Refine and repeat. As you gain certainty on the “inputs” to implementing customer centricity and refine the communication points, the “outputs” will start to become apparent and measurable. Perhaps you train teams in the principles and mechanisms. You could embed “change agents” in teams to be the experts on incorporating these practices. Perhaps there are specific customer friction points or projects where a customer-centric focus can demonstrate the power of starting with the customer and working backward. There are many other implementation approaches. In any scenario - test, measure, learn, adjust and iterate to scale.
Actions to Take
Write or draw your plan and logic map for becoming customer-centric. Just think it through and write it down in some manner. Review and defend your approach to someone else — someone who will actually press you for details, ask questions and bring ideas to you. Be fixed on your vision, but flexible on the means and timing. Test, measure, learn, adjust and iterate to scale — be agile on your journey to customer-centricity.
About The Digital Leader Newsletter
This is a newsletter for change agents, strategists, and innovators. The Digital Leader Newsletter is a weekly coaching session with a focus on customer-centricity, innovation, and strategy. We deliver practical theory, examples, tools, and techniques to help you build better strategies, better plans, better solutions — but most of all to think and communicate better. You’ll be able to follow up with questions and advice.