The Be-Do-Have of customer focus and customer centricity

Plenty of companies say that they want to be more customer focussed or more customer centric.  Lets take a look at this through analogy: does it make sense for a young woman to say that she wants to be more pregnant?  It is non-sense is it not?  This young woman is either pregnant or not.  And if she is not pregnant, then she is either committed to becoming pregnant or she is not.  The same argument applies to organisations.  As Yoda says to Luke Skywalker “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Moving on I want to take a deeper look at customer focus and customer centricity.  It seems to me that these terms are used without any real understanding – shared agreement – of what constitutes customer focus or customer centricity.  Here the Be-Do-Have framework becomes a useful scaffold to climb out of the pit of darkness and into the sunlight of clarity.

I think we can all agree on the Have.  The fruits of customer focus and customer centricity (I will use these terms interchangeably) are clear.  We have more retained customers, we have  a higher number of customers, we have higher revenues, we have higher profits, we have a higher EPS ratio than our competitors…….

Now things get a little trickier when we get to the Do part.  What do you have to Do to be customer focussed?  What do you have to Do get the results that I want (Have)?  For example, you can retain more customers by a variety of methods including but not limited to the following:

  • locking them into longer contracts for example by moving from 12 to 18 month contracts for mobile phones (telecoms);
  • making it difficult for them to stop doing business with you and switch to another supplier (utilities, broadband, financial services, hi-tech..);
  • ensure that your products do what they are supposed to do, that they are easy to use and have high resale value (e.g. Honda);
  • making it easy for them to do business with you (e.g. Amazon, eBay); and
  • standing for a set of values, practices and products that connect with a specific segment of the population (e.g. Virgin, Apple).

Given the variety of choices that you have about what to do and what not to do (DO) to get what you want to have (HAVE) how do you decide what to do and not do?  This is where the BE part is of critical importance. It is also the most neglected.

The BE domain is concerned with existence: why you exist, your purpose, your mission.  It is concerned with your character.  It is also concerned with what you stand for.  And it is concerned with the beliefs and values that you hold dear – what you are willing to live up to, to defend, even to die for.

At the BE level organisations are faced with a choice.  The default setting – despite the talk – is that customers are seen as objects to be manipulated for the benefit of the organisation.  Where concessions are made to customers it is because of regulatory pressure or because competitors force that move.    In Martin Buber’s view this is the “I- It” orientation.

The road less travelled is the “I-Thou” orientation: where the customers are treated as individual human beings – one of us and as such entitled to be treated with the same consideration as those who are one of us.

In my view, many if not most Customer initiatives are failing to deliver customer loyalty and everything that comes with that because the many if not most organisations have not changed their BEing mode: they are stuck in the default mode of treating customers as objects – “I-It” mode whilst talking the talk of customer focus and customer centricity.

Put differently, without a fundamental change in the BEing of the organisation all the customer initiatives are simply putting lipstick on the pig!

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.