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Customer Centricity, A Multi-Legged Stool

by David Brock on February 11th, 2016
Stool

Customer centricity has been one of the hot buzzwords for at least the past decade.  It’s a shame we’ve made so little real progress in being customer centric.

Sure, we put a veneer on it.  Our web sites declare we are customer centric-so we must be.  Plaques in our corporate headquarters say the same thing-so if it’s written down in corporate headquarters we must be.

Yet customers are still frustrated and unhappy–at least that’s what the research and anecdotal evidence shows.

We continue to be deluged with marketing materials, sales pitches, endless “Press 4 for customer service” messages.

Perhaps we make more progress on customer centricity if we shifted our focus.

First, let’s not be naïve.  Customer centricity, or any kind of centricity, as you will discover in reading further, is about goal attainment and moving forward.  Even charities are focused on achieving goals and outcomes consistent with their mission.

But customer centricity changes the focus of goal attainment.  It’s the explicit recognition that we can’t achieve our goals alone.  It is the recognition that to achieve our goals, we have to help others achieve their goals.  It’s the recognition that success in today’s world is about mutual interdependence.

Reading those words, most people would nod in agreement, saying so what?  Why are we still struggling with customer centricity?

I think part of it may have to do with the focus on customer centricity to the exclusion of everything else.

We can’t be customer centric of we aren’t also employee centric, supplier centric, community centric, shareholder centric.

Simply put, without this balance across all dimensions of the things needed to be successful, we will struggle to achieve our goals.

We can’t possibly have happy customers if we have unhappy employees.

We can’t possibly create value for our customers if we screw our suppliers.  They’ll simply focus on their good customers.

We can’t possibly build our businesses if we are poor corporate citizens.

All of these are very tightly coupled.  Focus on one to the exclusion of the others ultimately ends in failure or sub par performance.

Being centric at anything is tough.  It means we are dependent on someone other than ourselves.

It means giving away or at least sharing control.  (If we can actually believe we are “in control.”

While still being goal oriented, focused on what we want to achieve, it’s the recognition that we achieve through helping others achieve.

We can’t grow our businesses if we don’t have people buying our products.  But they don’t care about our products, they care about what they care about.  So if we are to get what we want we have to help customers get what they want.

Likewise, with our employees.  We don’t produce our products, sell and service our customers well, we suffer in the marketplace.  If we don’t have, develop, and retain the best talent, we trail the market.  If we don’t value the knowledge/skills/capabilities of the people that work for us, we can’t create the greatest value for our customers, then they choose to buy less.

If we try to create huge value for our customers, we need help in doing this, our employees, and great suppliers.  The more we limit the ability of suppliers to provide great value (for what we are willing to pay), the more we are limited in the value we can provide to our customers.  We can’t provide the best products in the world if we don’t leverage great support from suppliers and highly engaged/productive employees.

If we don’t serve our communities and shareholders well, we limit our potential growth.  Rather than leverage the positive word of mouth, the inflow of ideas, the inflow of support, it becomes more difficult for us to achieve our goals.

Being in business (or being in life) requires us to be engaged with others.  If we want to achieve, we can only achieve through others.  It takes at least two to play!

But business, particularly as we strive to grow it, becomes about more than two (one buyer and one seller).  Once it becomes about more than two, we become dependent on others and others become dependent on us.  We have to collaborate and become multi-centric.

As a result, if we focus only on customer centricity, Well never be customer centric, because we are missing the other elements of what it takes to be customer centric.  If we want to be employee centric, we will never be unless we have balance in the other areas.

The strategic growth question all of us face (individuals and businesses) is “How well balanced and how well do we perform across all of these dimensions?”  I suspect if you look at people and organizations that have sustained top performance for a long time, you will find they are not just customer centric, or supplier centric, or employee centric, or community centric —– but that they are great across all of those dimensions, simultaneously.

(As a bit of an afterthought, I think I would rewrite this, adding “me-centricity” to the mix.  If we aren’t focused on how we improve who we are and what we do, we can’t do the others as well either.  Likewise, if we are too me-centric, it prevents us from doing the others.   But that’s for another post.)

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One Comment
  1. Excellent post, as always. I wonder if, instead of being customer-centric, a better unifying construct would be to become problem-centric. In other words, to capture all of the various perspectives you illuminated AND define how they should work together, define the problem that you are all working together to solve. That definition of the problem becomes the anchor point for defining who does what – and why.

    Thoughts?

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