Colleague: So much money has been spent and continues to be spent. On CRM. On CX – voice of the customer, journey mapping etc. In the name of customer-centricity – whatever that means. Yet, there is little to show for it.
Me: Seems that way.
Colleague: Which big company, as in the kind of company that we end up consulting to / working with, has anything to show for the time-effort-money that has been spent on the whole Customer thing?
Me: I am not aware of a single one. Maybe there is big company out there that has become customer-centric as seen through the eyes of the customers. And If there is I am not aware of it. I distrust whatever the folks who go to the Customer circus (conference circuit) say about themselves. What matters is what the customers say.
Colleague: What’s your point of view on what’s going on? You’ve always got a point of view on pretty much everything! Let’s hear it then.
Me: Have you come across a philosopher called Heidegger? His thinking provides a good clue as to what’s going on.
Colleague: Never heard of him. What’s he got to say that’s relevant.
Me: He introduces the distinction between “in order to” and “for the sake of”. This distinction sheds light on the failure of the whole Customer thing. And what it will take to generate success.
Colleague: Explain then!
Me: Imagine a man in a workshop working on wood. He happens to be sawing a piece of wood. Why is sawing this piece of wood? In order to make a cabinet. Why is he making a cabinet? In order to sell it? Why is he looking to sell the cabinet? In order to get money / make a living. Why do that? In order to care for / feed his family? Why do that? For the sake of his own conception of what it is to be a good father/husband. Why does that matter to him? It just does! Here the chain of in order to comes to an end. There is no in order to. Showing and travelling as good father/husband is the sake of which he gets up in the morning and works/lives.
Colleague: There you go again not answering the question. What the fork has this to do with the whole Customer thing?
Me: Let me explain it another way. Imagine that there are two spherical round hollow cylinders. The walls are quite thin, and of the same size. It is possible to fit/slide into the other one by squeezing it as the cylinders are made of flexible material.
Me: One is labelled “Revenue & Profits”, the other is called “Customer-Centricity”. You are told that you need to slide one of these cylinders into/inside of the other cylinder. Which one do you slide inside? Which one has to fit inside the other one? Do you fit/slide the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder? Or do you choose to do the opposite: squeeze/fit the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder inside the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder?
Colleague: No question, the ‘Customer-Centricity” cylinder goes inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder. That’s the whole purpose of CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer -Centricity – to boost revenues, increase profit margins, and so boost profits. And to keep on doing this year after year. Isn’t it?
Me: As a philosopher I say that purpose does not inhere in the things itself. Purpose is a human construction. And as such the speaker who speaks of purpose gets to say what the purpose is. And sure, pretty much everyone that has taken on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity has done so for the sake of ambition/greed: for revenue growth, raising profits margins usually by cutting the costs of serving customers, and for profits and profit growth.
Colleague: What’s wrong with that!
Me: Wrong is not found in the world. Wrong is a human construct. It’s wrong if you say it’s wrong and get enough other folks to agree with you. I’m not saying there is something wrong with it. I am saying that when we choose one course of action over another there are always consequences.
Colleague: I think you are saying that there is little that big companies have to show for the time-money-effort they have spent on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity because they have been squeezing “Customer-Centricity” inside of “Revenues & Profits”. Is that what you are saying?
Me: That is exactly what I am saying! Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Almost every big company has gone about it that way. The prime, unquestioned directive, is to make the numbers, and grow the numbers. The latest magical recipe is CRM, Customer Experience, or Customer-Centricity. So lets hire a bunch of consultants to fit these magical solutions into our organisation so that these solutions help us deliver on our sake of: sake of making the numbers, sake of “Revenues & Profits”. And this approach has generated that which it has generated: limited benefits, incremental improvements in cultivating genuine loyalty.
Colleague: The alternative? Squeezing/fitting “Revenue & Profits” inside of “Customer-Centricity”, how does that work?
Me: As members of the senior leadership team you show up & travel in a way that makes it clear to all that you, and the company, that you represent is there for the sake of enriching the lives of your chosen set of customers.
You can do that as Zappos does through it awesome customer service. You can do it as Apple does by creating great (as in cool, high quality, unique) products for folks who are willing to pay a premium. You can do it as Amazon does – attractive prices, huge product range, ease/convenience of shopping, and next day delivery.
Amazon, in particular Jeff Bezos, sets a clear example. You choose to be customer-centric, to build that long term customer loyalty, to play for the long term, and you take the hit to “Revenues & Profits” over the short and even medium term. And you tell your shareholders that this is what you are about. If they don’t like it then they should sell their shares and move on to other enterprises.
Zappos is also an instructive example. The leadership team of Zappos started out putting the “Customer Centricity” container within the “Revenues & Profits” container. At a critical point when the Zappos was on its last legs the leadership team had to make a choice: to continue providing a lousy customer experience or do the opposite. And it looked like doing the opposite changing the operation model so that “Revenue & Profits” had to squeeze into / fit into “Customer-Centricity” would leave to ruin faster. The choice they made? To make “Revenues & Profits” subservient to, and for the sake of “Customer-Centricity” as in delivering an awesome customer experience. It so happened that this change worked out for Zappos. And there is no guarantee that another company in the same situation as Zappos taking the same course of action will generate the same result. You have to be a particular kind of idiot to believe that taking the same course of action in a open/dynamic/non-linear/uncertain/unpredictable world will yield the same results as you got last time.
Colleague: But CEOs of big listed companies cannot do this. They have to make the numbers – that’s what the analysts want, that’s what the shareholders want.
Me: Which is why I say that big listed enterprises will continue to make incremental improvements at best when it comes to the customer experiences (as viewed through the eyes of the customers) and customer loyalty. And the field for creating an awesome customer franchise belongs to outsiders – the Zappos, the Amazons, the Apple’s of the future.