What flavour of customer-centricity are you practicising?

Customer-Centricity: we are great at lying to ourselves

If there is one facet of ‘customer-centricity’ and the ‘outside in’ approach that I find striking it is this:  almost no-one who talks about this actually goes entices and enters into conversations with customers on what constitutes ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘outside in’ approach to doing business with customers.   Put differently which are the companies that have entered into ‘conversations for customer-centricity’ with their customers?  With all the noise around social media, user generated content including recommendations/ratings/feedback and collaborative platforms I notice only one way communications: from the company to the customer via some kind of survey or from the customer to the company via the call centre and social media.  Some habits persist: on and on and on.

There is a particularly interesting habit that human beings have: lying.  Must people are aware that they are pretty good at lying to others.  One has to be good to survive and prosper in families, organisations, institutions, communities and societies that function because we lie to one another.  What is overlooked is that we are masters at lie to ourselves: we are striding South whilst proclaiming that we are committed to heading North and then finding a whole host of excuses as to how it is not yet time to head North or that the quickest or only route to heading North is to first go South.  My experience suggests that the same is going on in organisations which are proclaiming their ‘love’ of the customer: customer focus, customer service, customer-centricity, customer experience, customer loyalty, customer obsession, customer responsiveness ……  Put bluntly, there are at least two flavours of customer-centricity: genuine customer-centricity (what I refer to as North in this post); and sham customer-centricity (what I refer to as South in this post).

A real world customer experience example

Lets make this real.  I was talking with James (he happens to drive a taxi) and he was sharing his story about difficult times with me.  If you haven’t noticed, there is a recession and James (and his family) really are feeling the effects.  Insurance premiums have been going up and up and up: over the last 2 – 3 years they have almost doubled.  James (and his family) need that insurance cover and yet James finds he cannot afford it.  So when he got is renewal letter (with a big insurance premium hike) James phoned the company and he was greeted by a helpful chap at the call-centre.   By asking him various questions the call-centre chap was able to move James to an insurance plan that was more in line with his needs (cut out the frills that James did not need) and thus take out the insurance premium hike.

Is James delighted?  Yes and no.  James is delighted that the chap on the phone was friendly and helped James to keep his insurance without any increases.  At the same time James is convinced that he has been ‘milked’ in the previous years.  “Why did they sell me a plan (two years ago) which provided benefits which they knew I was never going to need?”  What is James thinking?  He told me bluntly: “If they can find a suitable plan for me today by asking me some simple questions then why did the company not do the same two years ago when I joined them?  Why did they put me on a more expensive plan than I needed?  I don’t trust the company!”

In the real world we have messiness that does not appear in Customer theory and talk by ‘gurus’

So just recap, in James example of his relationship with his insurance provider what is so?  This is what I noticed:

  • James is positively delighted with his last interaction with his insurance provider – the helpful chap who helped him to keep is insurance premium to what it was last year;
  • James distrusts the insurance company – he is convinced that the company deceived him into taking out a more expensive insurance plan in order to fatten its coffers at his expense;
  • James is disappointed with the conduct of the insurance company yet has stayed on with the same company – he does not feel he has a choice.

Lets just take a look at that again and see what we can learn.  When I look at this I notice that life is messy.  You can have a customer who is delighted (in traditional customer satisfaction terms), distrustful & disappointed (not loyal in attitudinal terms, certainly not an advocate!) and yet loyal in behavioural terms – all at the same time.  I believe that this is kind of what I was pointing towards in one of my earlier posts.

A genuinely customer-centric organisation would have won James trust and advocacy by being genuinely customer-centric!

If James does not trust you to look after his best interests then he will not be loyal to you and he will not be an advocate.  How do you win him over?  By being genuinely customer-centric.  What does that involve?  It involves giving up the pretense to the outside world and lying to yourself.  It means recognising that behind the find words and the excuses you are simply exploiting the customer as best as you can.  And it means giving that up.

The access to customer loyalty and advocacy is simply HONESTY – being a honest broker. Do what you say and say what you do.  You might just want to read this short post by Seth Godin which gets to the heart of the matter.  Or you might want to revisit one of my posts on what it takes to cultivate trust:

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part I)

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part II)

Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012?  Start with ‘Integrity’

Where does HONESTY start?  With the people at the top.  I assert that the fundamental task of Tops who espouse customer-centricity is to be HONEST with their customers.  And if the Tops are not willing to do that then they should give up claiming their ‘love of the customer’.  Why?  James is not easily fooled – sooner or later ‘dishonesty’ shows up and occurs about as inviting as walking into a room full of elephant dung!

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

6 thoughts on “What flavour of customer-centricity are you practicising?”

  1. Hello Maz,

    Stimulating post!! It reminds me of a 2×2 customer centricity matrix that I created…

    One dimension is whether customer centricity is primarily outside-in or inside-out. Service blueprinting is fundamentally an inside-out attempt by companies to map customer-centric opportunities as every step along the value creation pipeline. Journey mapping is fundamentally an outside-in process squarely focused on the customer experience, mindset and behaviors.

    The other dimension is whether the approach to customer-centricity is proactive vs. reactive.

    Draw these two dimensions as a 2×2 you you can see where the customer-centric efforts are to (1) rapidly respond to frayed or broken processes in the business, (2) rapidly respond to customer feedback on touch points that they directly experience, (3) alter and improve the delivery experience before customers complain, or (4) look for ways to enhance customer experience, behavior and mindset before they tell you they have a problem.

    James would have certainly wanted his insurance company to do a better job in quadrant 4 above.



    1. Hello Marc
      Thanks for dropping in and sharing your perspective. I like the idea of the 2×2 grid – I can imagine it and see how that could be beneficial. Also, I totally get your point about quadrant 4. At the same time the thought/feeling arises that if I was to live into what you are saying then I would be colluding in making the simple complex. What do I mean?

      I mean that being honest – either being honest broker or not and then saying it as it is to customer – does not require any 2×2 grid. It is simply a stance: I eat meat or I do not eat meat; I smoke or I do not smoke; I can counted on to tell the truth or I cannot be counted on to tell the truth.

      Incidentally, I have no issue with companies deceiving their customers in order to look after their own welfare. Fine if you want to do that. Just does not work if that is what is so and you go on trumpeting how much your care for customers, how you do your best for customers, how customer-centric you are. Pretending to be honest whilst be dishonest is a question of workability – it is either something that works in life or it doesn’t. My father used to say “If you steal then expect to get caught sooner or later – the probability of getting caught is built into the game of stealing. So if you don’t want to end up in jail then don’t steal!”

      Once again I thank you for your contribution – you and your contribution are most welcome here. I hope one day to meet you face to face. Until then I send you my best wishes.



  2. Hi Maz,
    Great comment by Marc and I wholeheartedly agree. However, there is one thing I think we need to be mindful of and that is the language that we use to describe an approach and whether that is understandable to our customers. There is no use talking about customer centricity or their journey or their experience or service design or ANOther term to a customer to then be faced with a quizical look.

    If we want to engage with our customers perhaps, and this may be controversial, we should work harder to make sure how we talk about our businesses is in the language of our customers.


    Ps. Being an honest broker is a great start and a standard that I think the majority of customers would understand and relate to.


  3. Depending on the levels of coverage you are seeking, the amount you are going to pay on the policy will also vary. So, when you are deciding whether you need insurance for yourself, a family, or just you and a spouse, the health insurance quote you obtain is going to give you the policy coverage price, and what is covered under that quoted price.


    1. Hello and thank you for making the time to enter into the conversation and contribute.

      Whilst I totally get what you are speaking the deeper question is this: as an organisation are you committed to being a honest broker? Are you committed to doing the work (including asking me the right questions in the right way) to select the plan that is most right for me even if you could get away with offering me a more expensive plan – one that you know provides benefits/cover that I do not need and will not claim on or am not in a position to claim on due to exclusions?

      That is the deeper question that insurance companies (and all service providers) who claim to be customer-centric have to deal with. Why? Because your customers do not take customer-centric to mean having the ability to use customer data to market and sell goods that make money for your organisation at the expense of your customer. Using data to exploit customer weaknesses shows up as exploitation in your customer’s world. Using customer data and your expertise to provide the right advice, the right product, the right service – just right for your customer – is the access to being perceived as customer-centred and thus access to customer loyalty and advocacy.

      Once again, I thank you for your contribution.



  4. Hello Adrian
    Cannot agree more. One way of showing up in our customer’s world as an organisation that is customer-centred or at least customer-sensitive / customer-friendly is to use language that is the language of our customers. And language that is easy for them to understand.



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