Where does customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity reside in your organisation?

I put that question to Google today and I did not get an answer.  The closest I got was a checklist for a customer-centric business and a post on Amazon’s customer experience obsession.  Let’s take a look at both of these before whilst you consider the question that I have posed here.

Checklist for a customer-centric business

According to the folks at YSatisfy you can determine the customer-centricity of your organisation by answering the following questions:

  1. Do your have a clear idea of  who your customers are and their needs?
  2. Do you know which of your customers are most valuable to you?
  3. Does your business strategy / mission mention anything about your customers?
  4. Do you hire / develop your staff with your customers in mind?
  5. Do you have a process by which customers and employees can give feedback and review / act on this within your business?
  6. Do you have a customer complaints process which enables quick resolution of customer problems?
  7. Are all your employees empowered to deal with customer complaints?
  8. Do you know how satisfied or loyal your customers actually are?
  9. Do you provide specific services or incentives for your most valued / loyal customers?
  10. Do you deliver what you promise in your advertising / marketing to your customers?

This occurs to me as a list of features / characteristics as in what are the features/characteristics of a cat.   Yet, knowing the features of a cat (even if they are accurate) does not help me to locate the cat.  Where is the cat?

Amazon’s core value and customer experience obsession

Flavio Martins writes “The successful organizations with massive positive online goodwill and reputation are those that have embraced, live by, and seek to innovate in the area of customer experience and creating customer delight.”  and then he goes on to say that Amazon strives to live by the following values:

Customer Experience Requires Customer Obsession: We start with the customer and work backwards.

Customer Experience Requires Innovation: If you don’t listen to your customers you will fail. But if you only listen to your customers you will also fail.

Customer Experience Requires a Bias for Action: We live in a time of unheralded revolution and insurmountable opportunity – provided we make every minute count.

Customer Experience Requires Ownership: Ownership matters when you’re building a great company. Owners think long-term, plead passionately for their projects and ideas, and are empowered to respectfully challenge decisions.

Customer Experience Requires a High Hiring Bar: When making a hiring decision we ask ourselves: “Will I admire this person? Will I learn from this person? Is this person a superstar?”

Customer Experience Can Be Frugal: We spend money on things that really matter and believe that frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention!

OK, I now know what Amazon’s Tops consider to be the key requirements to play the customer experience excellence game.  For me that is like knowing the rules of chess.  Great, now where is the chess set?  Where does that chess set reside?  Notice that this list of requirements does not answer the questions I posed.

Does customer-centricity reside in your mission, strategy, processes, data, technology, metrics, people?

Mission:  then I ask you “Where does your mission reside and who/how is this mission enacted?”

Strategy:  then my question is “Where does your strategy reside and who/how is it enacted?”

Processes: then I ask you “Where do your processes reside, who works them, who monitors them, who keeps them up to date, who fine tunes them?”

Data:  then my question is “Why do so many people in your organisation complain there is mountain of data and a lack of useful, actionable insight?  And if data is where customer-centricity resides then why the need to turn data into this actionable insight?”

Technology: then I ask you “Why do you people on the payroll?  What contribution do people make?”

Metrics:  then my question is “Who produces these metrics?  Why do you produce these metrics?  What do you do with these metrics?”

People: then I ask you “Which people? The Tops, the Middles, The Bottoms, Marketing, Customer Service, Sales, Logistics….?  And where exactly in people does customer-centricity reside?”

Customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity lies in language / conversation

I say that customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity, the customer orientation lies in language.  Specifically, a network of ongoing conversations between people.  All the people including customers, suppliers, partners and all the people within the company irrespective of where these people sit in the organisation.  I say that these conversations then  show up in decisions, investments, policies, practices, processes, metrics, data, technology and a whole host of other organisational artifacts.  I say that the ‘quality’ of these conversations will determine both the quality of your decisions and the power of your actions.  I say that the more widely distributed these conversations the powerfully your organisation will enact these decisions, the more powerfully your organisation will live customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity.  What do you say?

Want to assess the degree to which your organisation is customer focussed, customer obsessed, customer-centric?  Then take a good look at the conversations that occur and the language that is used.  Ask yourself:

1.  Who takes part in these conversations and are they invited or ‘forced’ to take part?  Is it only certain groups or everyone?  Are customers invited?  What about suppliers? Channel partners?

2.  When and how frequently do these conversations occur? Once a month at the senior leadership meeting?  Once a week at the departmental meeting?

3.  How much time, energy, passion, honesty, truth is put into these conversations?  How much real dialogue and discussion really occurs between the people who participate?  Are people free to voice their honest point of view?  Is there a listening for/to the points of view of everyone irrespective of rank?

4.  What language is used in these conversations?  Are customers talked about as ‘muppets’, ‘targets’, ‘personas’, ‘wallets’, ‘members’?  How are people talked about in these conversation?  What language do you use to describe youre people, your suppliers?  Do you use the word ‘partner’ or ‘vendor’ for your suppliers?

5.  Where do these conversations take place?  Which locations? Which mediums /channels?  Are all conversations channels and mediums used?

6.  What commitments do people take on as a result of these conversations?  What decisions are made?  Does everyone around the table volunteer to take on commitments that move the game forward or is it always a select few?  Are these commitments and decisions shared with all of the people who will be affected, who will be expected to enact these decisions and commitments?

7.  What is the conversation around these commitments?  How are they talked about – owned, enacted, ‘my word is my bond’, optional?   What is the conversation around people living up to their commitments?  Is it OK not to live up to your commitments, to substitutes reasons/excuses for action and results?

8.  What mechanisms are in place for keeping these conversations in tune with purpose? How do you know when these conversations are off track?  Who can call it when he/she sees that people are just going through the motions?  Who can call it if he/shes that the conversations are off track, not creating purpose, meaning, unity, alignment, enthusiasm, the will to act?

9.  What mechanisms are in place to keep these conversations in existence and widely distributed?  Business is a game constructed and enacted by people working in concert with one another and walking the same path to the same destination.  So what are the conversations around how we involve everyone in the conversation, in constructing and playing the customer-centricity game?  What are the conversation around inspiring everyone to participate, to play full out?  Who is taking part in these conversations?

10. Who is the steward, the guardian, the ‘servant leader’ of/for these conversations for customer focus, customer obsession, customer centricity?  What is his/her level of passion / enthusiasm for these conversations and the role of steward/guardian?  How is s/he listened to within the organisation?

A final thought: transform the conversations and your transform your culture

Transform the conversations that take place in your organisation and you will transform the culture of your organisation.  It really is that simple.  Word has awesome power: Word creates World.   Remember when the Word spoke ‘witch’?  How many women died as a result of our speaking ‘witch’?  Remember the Word ‘heresy’?  How many people died as a result of this word during the Inquisition – Papal and Spanish?

Choose your words carefully. Do not suck the life, the power out of them, by speaking ‘customer experience’ when you mean ‘customer service’.  Do not speak ‘customer-centricity’ when you mean ‘profit-centric’.  Do not speak customer relationship management when you mean customer interaction management.  If speak of your people as ‘human resources’ then do not expect them to give your their hearts.  If you speak of customers not as ‘members’ but as ‘targets or wallets’ then do not expect them to give you their hearts, their loyalty.  If you speak about your suppliers as ‘vendors’ then expect them to act as ‘vendors’.

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 “Where does customer focus, customer obsession, customer-centricity reside in your organisation?”

  1. Maz, I sort of agree, customer centricity does lie in conversation

    However, as I have found to my cost, there is a big difference between conversation and action. And I can’t help but think many organisations should put their money where their mouth is



  2. Hello James

    Great point. In the vast majority there is a lot of talk combined with a ‘lack of ownership’ a ‘lack of commitment’ and so little gets done. The kind of conversations I am talking about are in a completely different domain. I will write a follow up post showing how to hold those kind of conversations – convrsations that move-touch-inspire people, the community, to act.

    All the best


  3. Maz, as a business anthropologist your discussion of language resonates with me. When trying to understand how an organization connects with its customers, I like to look for the symbolic meanings behind the words and actions. In your Question #4 above, even if the same word is used within a company, it may hold wildly different meanings to each employee. And those meanings may spur different types of action that could benefit or deter the customer experience.

    Looking forward to reading your follow up post. This one was exceptionally thought-provoking. Thanks for giving me something to mull over on my morning walk.


  4. Hello Chris(?)
    I do hope that I have got your name right, if not then please forgive me.

    What can I say except that I am truly delighted that our paths have crossed. My main interest is people as people – alone, couples, groups, teams, organisations….. I am particularly interested in the social construction of reality and human beings as beings that live from and through language. And as such I totally get what you are saying. As Wittgenstein pointed out there is no inherent meaning in a given word – it is all about how it is used. And as Heidegger pointed out most words are plain used out – they have lost their power because they are used to convey so many meanings that you cannot be sure that the meaning that you got as the meaning that the other person intended.

    I look forward to writing that follow up post. I am wondering if you are up for entering into a conversation with me as I am up for getting to know you better. It occurs to me that we may be able to contribute to each other.



    1. Hi Maz, I would love to start up a wider conversation on this.

      As we discuss words and meanings, there is an inherent tension that I notice on an everyday basis as I build up my business. I do exchange “customer experience” and “customer service” when first talking with prospects. I do this based on which term I believe will gain faster recognition in their mind. More often than not, it’s “customer service” that gets attention even if what I really mean is “customer experience.” I guess it’s a question of practicality. Not saying that’s right and not admitting it shouldn’t change because as you so rightly suggestion, words have power.

      I think the marketer and anthropologist within me have started a wrestling match now. It’s such a fascinating line of possible dialogue…I hope you and I do have a chance to get to know each other better and talk more about it.

      (BTW, yes you did get my name right 🙂 Sorry, I didn’t realize I wrote in my company name instead of the name my mamma gave me.)


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