Beautifully, Wonderfully Dissatisfied

Breakdown of the Customer-Centricity Principle of "Trust Customer Feedback"

The Digital Leader Newsletter — Strategies and Techniques for Change Agents, Strategists, and Innovators.

Imagine a conversation at the typical online retailer. This conversation is typical of any business — not just retail. “Our metrics indicate our customer orders were typically delivered on time AND our delivery costs hit budget. AND all of our processes were followed closely with little deviation. AND Our NPS scores from last year are good. I think we are doing great relative to hitting our customer expectations”. Everything is good.

BUT negative customer contacts are growing. BUT there are several negative comments on social media? BUT the order I sent to my mom arrived late. This is where the conversation stops at 95% of teams and companies. Although there is a conflict between the metrics, our surveys, and some of the things we are hearing, we trust our metrics, our process, and our surveys. We aren’t tuned into listening to other channels where our customers are indicating that things aren’t as great as we think.

That is unless you are a customer-centric organization!

A Principle to Start the Cure

In an earlier and foundational post, I outlined twenty-two candidate principles for customer-centricity. This is not a proposal to adopt twenty-two principles but contributes a robust list of potential principles as a starting point to consider.

The Digital Leader Newsletter -- By John Rossman
How to ACTUALLY Become Customer-Centric
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One principle is tailored specifically to help avoid and cure this deafness. This principle is number nine on the list of twenty-two

Trust Customer Feedback -- When customer feedback conflicts with our metrics, we trust the customer feedback and dig deeper.

True Customer Obsession

From the founder and Executive Chairman of the “world’s most customer-centric company, ever”, Jeff Bezos shares this lesson in Amazon’s 2016 Shareholder Letter (I highlighted for emphasis)

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.

Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.

Another example: market research and customer surveys can become proxies for customers – something that’s especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products. “Fifty-five percent of beta testers report being satisfied with this feature. That is up from 47% in the first survey.” That’s hard to interpret and could unintentionally mislead.

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

This practice is the counterbalance to trusting the metrics and “process” too much.  We have to put in audits and mechanisms to hear customer stories, especially “wonderfully dissatisfied” or “divinely dissatisfied”  customer stories and feedback, and then do something about them.  In addition to solving the underlying issue, figure out how to improve your listening skills!


Mechanisms are consistent practices and procedures to help a principle become the rule-of-the-land.

Potential mechanisms to support “Trust Customer Feedback” include a voice of the customer program; putting in social listening technology; SLA’s for the “worst” customer experiences; targeted customer surveys to specific cohorts and situations. These are all “listening” mechanisms. Which is great, but from listening, we must gain insights and then act. Quickly.

Customers are a gift, not just for the business and the revenue they represent, but because they are “always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied”. But only if we listen to them.



About The Digital Leader Newsletter

This is a newsletter for change agents, strategists, and innovators.  The Digital Leader Newsletter is a weekly coaching session focusing 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.

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