An Unconventional Take on Customer-Centric Business

Some folks are generous. Some of these generous folks think of me as thought leader in the Customer space. As a result when other folks are doing research in customer-centricity, customer strategy, customer experience they are told to reach out and ask me questions.  Such questioning took place recently on the subject matter of customer-centricity.

What is Customer-Centricity? And How Does An Organisation Become Customer-Centric?

The questioner wanted to pick my brains on the following:

  • Definition: what is customer-centricity?
  • Obstacles: what stands in the way of an organisation being customer-centric; and
  • Route-Map: what path an organisation need to take and traverse in order to become customer-centric.

It occurred to me that what the questioner was looking for was a template. Better still a mould. A mould in which you pour in an organisation and out comes a customer-centric organisation.  Or a template, if applied precisely, to an organisation, any organisation, out comes a customer-centric organisation.

Let’s imagine that a customer-centricity wizard conjured up such a template / mould.  Surely, this template would be sold to any and all with the desire and means to purchase it.  What would be the result using this template?  Does it take that much imagination to see that each and every organisation would end up the same. Exactly the same: each would have the exact same understanding of what it is to be customer-centric: channels, processes, practices, structures…. And if this is the case then what would differentiate one of these organisations from another?

I can see the lure of ready made answers to complex challenges, opportunities, and problems.  With ready made answers and templates one does not need to think. One does not need to investigate matters including generating original meaningful insight into customers. Or the lives of employees, and that which is occurring at the coal face where the organisation and the customer meet. One does not have to put oneself in a vulnerable position of trying stuff out and accepting / embracing failure: the situation not turning out as you had hoped / planned. One does not need to be patient and iterate one’s way to customer-centricity.  And of course when one arrives at customer-centricity then one can put one’s feet up, sink into habit, and live on automatic pilot.  Yes, I get the lure.  I can see the lure of instant get rich schemes. Or no effort instant weight loss regimes.  And what do they have in common: they all disappoint. Now compare that with the folks who are serious about dealing with their alcohol addiction and show up at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Might Customer-Centricity Come In Flavours? And Be Context Sensitive?

Consider this. In the world of Apple, customer-centricity means inventing products that folks want to own because they show up as so desirable (so cool), useful (they enrich the lives of customers in some manner), and because they are so intuitive (easy) to use. In the world of Zappos, customer-centricity means providing the world’s best customer service – where it is perfectly ok for a Zappos employee to spend hours on a phone with a customer.  In the world of Amazon, customer-centricity means making it so easy for customers to buy a range of goods from Amazon at a ‘value for money’ price, and receive the goods the next day or so – no travel, no hassle.  In the world of John Lewis, customer-centricity means providing great products and calling forth great service from the folks that work in the business by ensuring that these folks share in the success of the business.

If you get what I am getting at, then you will get my advice. What advice?  Do not look for definitions of customer-centricity. Do not look for a template / mould / recipe to turn your organisation into a customer-centric organisation. Instead, live the question!     Grapple with the question!

What Is The Question And Challenge That Lies At The Heart of Customer-Centricity?

This question: In which way/s do we wish to simplify-enrich the lives of the customers we have chosen to do business with?  

To answer this question well it is necessary to understand the lives (as lived, experienced) of your chosen customers.  Generating this kind of understanding – rich understanding – is a challenge.  Why? This understanding can only come about if you get close to your customers. How close?  You have to enter their lives: to experience the world as they experience the world.  Whilst this sound challenging it may not necessarily be as challenging as it sounds provided you are in touch with your own experience of living – your own humanity. Apple’s enter into smartphones had a lot to do with Job’s frustration with using the mobile phones on the market. Zappos way of doing business is a manifestation of who Tony Hsieh is as a human being: how he feels about people and relationships between people, how he wishes to be treated by folks.

Summing up

I say that to show up as customer-centric you have to give up looking for ready-made answers and grapple with the question. The only question that matters when you are considering customer-centricity is this one: for our chosen base of customers, what do we need to do to simplify-enrich the lives of our customers, and are we doing that which is necessary?  Imagine what becomes possible if all the folks in your leadership are living this question. Imagine what becomes possible if all of the Tops and Middles are living this question. Now imagine if all the folks in your organisation are living this question.

I also say that you have to live this question every day. Why?  Because life is not life but living – which is to say it is a process. Process is flow. Which is to say that all is change. What constituted customer-centricity last month may not constitute customer-centricity today.  Which is to say that customer-centricity is not a thing. Nor a destination.  It is perception: how your customers perceive you. It is also context sensitive.  Think Tesco.  Once Tesco was considered the poster child for customer-centric business: the exemplar.  The context changed with the financial crisis, the recession, and the UK’s austerity regime.  The folks at Tesco did not change their ways.  Yet folks at Waitress who served upmarket affluent customers did notice the change of context. And in so doing they made a number of changes including the introduction of the value range.

I invite you to consider that none of the existing methods, tools, techniques, formulas, recipes, templates will help you in the challenge and opportunity of customer-centricity. The opposite may be the case. Why so?  The nature of our educational process is such that we are addicted to forcing the world to fit our moulds (theories, approaches, methods, tools, techniques).  That is how education makes us stupid.  Yet, the process of living requires us to show up with a sensitivity to that which is occurring and respond to this intelligently. This means coming up with original ways.  Consider that the folks at Zappos went against conventional advice. Consider that Steve Jobs also did the same. Do you remember what folks said about Apple’s move into smartphones, or the format of their stores?  Consider that The John Lewis Partnership is one of the few large organisation that is employee owned (through a trust).  Again, going against conventional practice.

Enough for today, I thank you for your listening.  If you disagree with that which I have shared then I ask you to share your thoughts by commenting.

Taking A Deeper Look At Customer-Centricity: Is It All Goodness?

Today, let’s take a deeper look at customer-centricity. Why? To get a better appreciation of what this term signifies. And importantly what it does not signify.  How best to go about this? Allow me to share a personal story or two with you and lets see what is unconcealed.

My Father Is Centred On Me

Up to the age of 5 (or so) nobody was centred upon me. As a result I lived a life that showed up as free – I pretty much got to do what I wanted to do for the whole day; my father was living in a different country for most of the time and my mother was too busy working the farm to keep a close eye on me.

Everything changed shortly after my fifth birthday. I found myself living in the UK, living an indoor life in a city (rather than an outdoor life in the countryside) and under the careful gaze of both my mother and father.  This is where life became interesting. Why? Because my father became maz-centred: he centred his attention on me.  What did this look like?

My father planned and dictated pretty much every day of my life. So when I got back from school, I was fed by my mother then marched upstairs to my bedroom to study. And not let out until the studying was done. Homework from school was not enough. My father got together with his more educated friends and gave me extra homework.  Each night there would be test.  If I did not pass the test there were unpleasant consequences.  Further, I had to watch the six o’clock news and the nine o’clock news. And I had to translate for my father. I remember that one night I forgot to inform him that the Egyptian army had been decimated by the Israeli army. The next day he found out from his friends and I got punished.

This level of maz-centricity was not enough for my father. Some weekends he would arrange for my cousin who was several years older to come over. And then he would pose questions to us both.  If I did not surpass my cousin – who was and is clever – I got punished.  To avoid the punishment I studied a lot in the evenings and even at the weekends.

As I excelled in school my fathers maz-centricity broadened to include Islam. Now I come home to school, was fed by my mother, did some homework, then had to go the mosque and study there for 2-3 hours, then return home and complete my homework.

When it came to choosing which subjects I was going to study at school for my O’levels. My father chose the subjects for example overriding my preference for Physics with his choice of biology. Why? My father was totally centred on me. Why? My father was clear that I was his passport to status (standing in the community) and money. Therefore, he was clear and determined that I was to become a doctor – at least a doctor, more likely a surgeon.

What has been unconcealed here?  My father centred his resources (time, money) on me in order to serve his needs – for status, for wealth.

I Centre On My Children

I remember coming home very late one evening – around about 11pm. It had been a hard day at work. Opening the door, I found my son (who was around 3 at the time) rushing towards me with big eyes, big smile, and open arms. As I picked him up the following thought occurred: “My son loves me just as I am. All he asks is that I be here and spend time with him. Whereas at work, I am only as good as the last project. And my utilisation rate.”  I also realised that I had been prioritising work over my son!  I made a choice. I chose to stop climbing the ladder at a Top 5 management consultancy – work less, spend more time with my son.

When Rohan (eldest son) was around 4 years old I made the decision to put him into a private school: a Montessori School. Many people advised me not do so. Their argument, private school is costly. And I could not put Rohan into Montessori School without, later, putting both Rohan and Marco (second eldest son) into Montessori School. And then later a third child; my wife and I had planned to have three to four children.

After some consideration, I chose to walk down this path – of putting Rohan into Montessori School and keeping there at least until the age of eleven. And likewise for the other children – born and unborn. Why did I make this choice? I noticed that Rohan was an unusual child: bright, risk taking, inquisitive, creative yet struggling to read or put a sentence together. Later it turned out that Rohan has the gifts and constraints that go with being Dyslexic. Noticing, what was so, I was convinced that Rohan would suffer in traditional school where the classroom size is 30+. And the work if focussed on reading and writing.  Montessori School offers a much broader curriculum and importantly uses all five sense – not just sight and sound.

When I was not working away from home, I spent some time every evening with each of my children. If nothing else I would go and lie in bed with each of them for 10 – 20 minutes. And I would ask them the same questions. How are you feeling? What was good about your day? What was not good about your day? Is there anything else that you want to tell Papa?  I would give each of them a hug and tell each of “I love you and I am so proud of you.” That was the truth and continues to be the truth.

It occurs to me that I was also centred on my children. Ask my wife and she will tell you that I continue to be centred on my children even though Rohan is nearly twenty, Marco is eighteen, and Clea is fourteen.  The question is, why have I been and continue to be centred on my children?

My answer: to give these children the best start in life. What kind of start is that? One where they are encouraged and taught to think for themselves. One where they are encouraged and taught to stand up for themselves. One where they are encouraged to be leaders not just followers. One where they are encouraged and taught to consider and care for others. One where they are encouraged to take risks, explore, create, challenge rather then merely follow instructions and execute…..  My desired outcomes for my children have been and continue to be:

  • each child knows and values his gift/s;
  • each child has strong self-esteem (sense of inner worth) and strong self-confidence (way of being in the world and handling that which shows up in the world); and
  • each child values others as fellow human beings worthy of respect-consideration and naturally gets on well with others without sacrificing his/her core values and aspirations.

Summing Up

My father centred his time-effort-resources on me from the age of five until I broke away at the age of eighteen; I had been planning to break away from about the age of fourteen.

I have centred my time-effort-money on my children since 1998-1999.  All three of my children are still living with me. None of them has any intention of moving out any time soon even though the boys are both employed.

What is the difference?  My father was centred on me in order to attain his desired outcomes and at no time considered what I wanted for my life. What mattered was my father maximising his ROI in me. I was his vehicle for status, respectability, wealth…. I have been centred on my children too – throughout the wellbeing of my children has been and continues to be my concern and my commitment.

Imagine a hunter has his attention and rifle centred on your head right now.  He is about to take that shot. How are you left feeling?  Does the fact that this hunter is centred on you mean that he has your wellbeing at the centre of his concern?  You are not that stupid, right?  No you are not, which is why you would prefer it if this hunter centred his attention and rifle on someone/thing else – just not you or your loved ones.

So why is it that so many folks go stupid when it comes to business and the use of the term customer-centricity? Why is it that folks talk about customer-centricity as good thing implying that it is good for the company and it’s customers.  It may be good for the company, it is highly unlikely to be good for the customers. And I get that there are some companies which are exceptions.

Remember:

  1. Customer-centricity is merely a set of people and practices that constitute a powerful tool;
  2. What matters is what this tool will be used for the sake of (purpose/motive);

  3. What this tool is used for will be determined by the person/s who are using this tool;

  4. Therefore, take a good-detailed look at the person/dept/organisation which is using that tool.  Look at how these folks ‘feed and breed’ and you will have a good insight into what they will be using the tool for.

  5. Whatever you do don’t listen to the words, remember the Greek legends -in particular the Sirens with their seductive music and and voices.

And finally, from my own experience I have never found anyone to be as customer-centric as a salesman who needs to make his quota. Or a direct marketers keen to get the max revenue-profits from their direct marketing efforts.

Taking a Deeper Looking at the Customer-Centric Ideology

In response to an earlier post (The Paradox At The Heart of Customer-Centric Business) Christopher Frawley commented:

Maz, your post is both intriguing and confusing. You’ve stated what you’re against, but I’m not sure that you’ve clearly articulated what you’re for. You do make the point about business being an ecosystem that’s larger than the customer and yes that’s true.

I would argue that the decisions you make about hiring, treating suppliers, revenue models, etc. are all in service to meeting and exceeding the needs of customers – the reason you have a business at all. All the questions about how the business operates should be answered through the lens of with what will help us do the best job for customers in the marketplace.

So many have awakened to the reality that more outward attention must be paid to the customer and you may consider much of what’s being said and done simplistic (as you stated). If a customer centric business does not center itself on its customers, then what if anything is at the center and/or what should it be? Thanks.

It occurs to me that Christopher makes good points and is asking questions worth asking.  So the least that I can do is make the effort to grapple with his questions and share that which shows up for me.

I say that all of us talk a lot of nonsense and mostly we are not present that it is nonsense. Why? Because we fall in with the customs and fashions of the day.  Whilst thoughts may show up for us, most of us rarely think.  It occurs to me that a lot of nonsense has been talked about in the Customer domain by those who have something to sell to those who buy the nonsense.

Is business about meeting and exceeding the needs of customers? 

Is it a God given commandment that the purpose of business is to meet-exceed the needs of customers? I haven’t seen it any of the holy books so it occurs to me the answer is no.  Perhaps a better question, given that we worship at the altar of science, is to ask if meeting-exceeding the needs of customers is a scientific law.  Can you and I agree that science has nothing to say on this matter, it is silent?

Which begs the question, who says that the reason you have a business at all is to meet-exceed the needs of customers?  In grappling with this question, I ask you to consider that the taken for granted view (embedded in company law in USA, UK) is that the duty of management is to run the business so as to maximise the returns to shareholders.  There is no mention of customers. There is no duty towards customers other than those duties imposed by consumer protection legislation. Do you not find it interesting that consumer legislations has been enacted to stop companies misleading even abusing customers?

Do entrepreneurs risk all so that they can meet-exceed customer expectations? I have had the privilege of working with some entrepreneurs. Based on that experience, it occurs to me that the answer is no. Some entrepreneurs start their businesses to escape the rat race. Others because they see an opportunity to make a lot of money.  From what I have read, Steve Jobs did it to ‘make a dent in the universe’; Jeff Bezos did it because he did not want to regret missing out on the possibilities created by the internet; Tony Hsieh did it because he loved building businesses; Chris Zane did what he did because he found himself good at fixing bicycles….

Back to the central question and let’s ask this question differently. What is the basis of the assertion that the reason you have a business at all is to meet-exceed the needs of customers?  The common answer is that it is the customer that pays the wages.  Let’s take this to mean that without customers there is no viable business.  Agreed.  Now consider this question.  What happens to a business if the people who work in the business all drop dead?  What happens if the employees get together and go on strike? Is this business a viable business? I say no.  If you think otherwise, then ask yourself why it is that USA and the UK governments and business establishment have sought to undermine unions and union power.

Let’s consider the energy companies in the UK. It is arguable whether they meet and exceed the needs of their customers. A fundamental need is for transparent pricing plans so that customers are in a position to make the right choices.  The energy companies have done and continue to do all they can to stop customers getting this need met.  These energy companies make huge profits by structuring the market to meet their needs – needs of top management and shareholders.

It occurs to me that business is as much about meeting-exceeding customer expectations as my life is about breathing, drinking and eating.  Which is my way of saying that in the same way that it is simplistic to reduce my life to breathing-drinking-eating, it is simplistic to reduce business to meeting-exceeding customer expectations.

You may disagree. In that case can you and I agree that I have shared with you sufficient grounds to at least question the God given status of the truth of the assertion ‘business is about meeting-exceeding customer expectations’?

Should all business questions be answered on the basis of what will help us to do the best job for customers?

To answer this question, it is worth getting present to something: customers don’t exist.  How to point this out more concretely? When i-you say “all business questions should be answered on the basis of what will help us to do the best job for customers” which customers are we talking about?  Are we talking about the customers which are most profitable for us?  The customers on which we are losing money?  The customers where it occurs to us we have the most potential to grow their wallet share with us?

In ‘Onwards: How Starbuck’s Fought for It’s Life without Losing It’s Soul’ Howard Schultz draws attention to the real world – the world of messiness.  Under the previous CEO, Starbucks had expanded rapidly to please Wall St.  When an analysis of the stores was done there were 100s of stores that were simply not viable. So the decision was taken to close these stores. What happened when customers of these stores found out? Some customers wrote in asking-pleading for the stores to be kept open. Why? Because the Starbucks store played such a central role in their lives.  What happened?  Howard and the team listened, did the maths, and closed the stores.

When the folks at Apple were playing around with the technologies that would eventually constitute the iPhone were they doing so in order to meet-exceed customer expectations?  Or was Steve vested in creating-building a phone that he enjoyed owning-using?  I wasn’t there so I do not know the definitive answer. The writers (that I have read) say that Steve was concerned with creating a phone that he and his family-friends would enjoy owning-using. The effect of succeeding in creating such a phone was that of exceeding customer expectations. Yet, it was not customer expectations that drove the investment, effort, or passionate commitment to creating the iPhone.

Then there is Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation.  As I understand, Clayton Christensen makes the claim that successful companies become good even great at building a business around a highly profitable group of customers. And in the process they ignore other customers thus creating an opening for innovative disruptors. Consider Amazon, how is it that Amazon has become the giant of book retailing? I say it is in part because the incumbents were to busy answering question on the basis of their understanding, and investments, in doing the best job for customers who bought their books – the people who turned up, looked at and bought books in the store.

Can you and I agree that the game of business cannot be reduced to any simplistic formula. Including, ‘all business questions be answered on the basis of what will help us to do the best job for customers’?

What is my big issues with customer-centricity? 

Life is messy. Life is full of polarities, contradictions, and paradoxes.  Business is a realm of life and as such the game of business is messy, non-linear, full of polarities, contradictions and paradoxes.  This is not a realm in which simple minded thinking, simple minded formulas, and simple minded approaches are effective.  It occurs to me that too many of those working on customer focus, customer experience, and customer-centricity are falling into this simple minded trap.

Consider that the success of Amazon is as much on its ability to deliver the goods to the customer quickly as it is about its website.  And that Amazon lives by the principle ‘the best service is no service’ – ensuring that everything works just right so that there is no need for the customer to contact customer services.

Consider that the success and value of Apple is tied to the ability of its people to come up with ‘magic products’.  And Apple invests in on helping its customers make good use of these magic products. How many folks working on the customer experience even consider these two domains?

Consider that Ryanair has been hugely successful by enabling people who would not normally fly (as they could not afford flights on the likes of British Airways or Aer Lingus) to fly. It occurs to me that Ryanair is a great illustration of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruption. By tapping this unmet need the folks at Ryanair have been getting away with treating their customers rather badly in terms of service, fairness, and charges.

Consider that Tesco was held out as the exemplar of taking a data driven, customer-centric approach to retailing. What is the case today?  Tesco has been struggling since the recession whilst the likes of Waitrose, Sainsburys, and Aldi are doing rather well.  So perhaps data driven retailing is not the magical formula for business success.

Consider that the John Lewis Partnership (John Lewis, Waitrose) have been growing from strength to strength – this is a business where the employees own the business and where their rights and obligations are enshrined in a legally binding constitution.

 

The Paradox At The Heart of Customer-Centric Business

I am no longer a fan of customer-centricity nor customer-centric business. I am not a fan of the way many are going about customer focus, customer-centricity, or customer obsession.  It occurs to me that the approach taken by many towards arriving at customer focus, customer-centricity, and customer obsession is not gold, it is fools gold.

Why? Because it occurs to me that an organisation that shows up as customer-centric does not centre itself on its customers. At least not in the simplistic sense that is being written-talked about, promoted and acted upon by many.

I get that I make a bold, even controversial statement, and it highly unlikely to win me applause. That is OK, given that my commitment is to write my truth and take a skeptical stance towards the dominant ideologies and practices.

I get that you might want to better understand why it is that I assert that which I assert here.  Allow me to point at, illustrate, and unconceal that which I am getting at here by sharing with you some quotes.  Let’s start with Emmy Van Deurzen, chartered counselling psychologist and registered existential psychotherapist:

…. one can never ignore the needs of others when making personal decisions but neither can one allow others to entirely determine oneself even when alone. This is a paradox

Yes, you do need to consider customers – their needs, their desired outcomes, their ‘jobs-to-be-done’, their preferences etc.  And you cannot run a successful business just by focussing on your customers. The game of business involves other players whose needs have to be considered.  For example, a facet of business life caught my attention whilst working with smaller businesses, which had not so gripped me for most of my life working in big businesses.  What facet? The critical importance of finding, hiring, organising, enabling, inspiring, channeling, and retaining the people who actually work inside the business to do that which is necessary to create value for customers.  It occurs to me that this is just as important for big businesses, it is not so evident because the dysfunctions of a demotivated workforce don’t show up as vividly in a huge organisation.  Or take a look at Zappos, its success is partly built on the way the founders and management team treated suppliers (as a valuable part of Zappos) and thus called forth co-operation from them.

Furthermore, if you simply follow what customers are telling you then you leave yourself open to the disruption caused by those who can see beyond what customers are saying in market research and customer surveys. Here, I share a passage from Matt Watkinson, the author of The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences:

It is not only consumers who have shifted towards other-directedness and ended up struggling: businesses have too. The dominant obsession with market intelligence, competitor analysis, and customer research is all about developing a more powerful radar, and the endless hand-wringing and strategising over social media betrays the kind of anxieties that are most often found in those eager for the approval of others.

In contrast, we most admire those businesses with a strong inner direction – a clear set of values, integrity and sense of purpose – and tend to lionise celebrity CEOs who bring that ethos to life…….. Customers churn between suppliers to find the best deal, not because we are all extremely price sensitive, but because there is nothing to be loyal to.

What Matt is pointing at here is that we are not simply the kind of beings that economics says we are.  Nor are we the kind of beings that rationalist philosophy, behavioural psychology, and scientific management assumes that we are.  The human being is a richer human being. A human being that strives for meaning and connection, open to being loyal to ideals, values, missions that elevate human life.

Finally, I want to leave you with wisdom from John Kay, an British economist:

If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.

Obliquity is necessary because we live in an world of uncertainty and complexity; the problems we encounter aren’t always clear – and we often can’t pinpoint what our goals are anyway; circumstances change; people change – and are infuriatingly hard to predict; and direct approaches are often arrogant and unimaginative.

So let me remind you of my central assertion:

A customer-centric organisation does not centre itself on its customers. It is a paradox. And I say that it occurs to me that the way that many organisations are going about customer focus and customer-centricity, will not get them there. The path heavily promoted, and commonly taken, is fools gold.

Whilst I abhor combat, I do welcome conflict: conflict is simply the showing up of difference. And if difference is approached through the spirit of dialogue then it unconceals aspects of the world that are hidden from each of us. So if you disagree with that which I have written then please speak your mind, educate me, share that which you see and which I do not see.  I wish you a great day and thank you for making the time to listen to my speaking.

Is this the real state of ‘customer-centric’ business?

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend/participate in a informal gathering (in London) hosted by Bob Thompson (of CustomerThink.com).  At this gathering we touched upon a number of topics and in this post I wish to share with you what left an impression upon me.

1. No consensus on what constitutes a ‘customer-centric’ business

Amongst the 10 – 12 gathering (of noted gurus, authors, speakers, consultants) I noted that we did not share a common understanding/definition of what constitutes a ‘customer-centric’ business.  I am not sure that  I found any strong agreement for my point of view that the defining being of a ‘customer-centric’ business is that of authentic care:

“when you are confronted by the choice of doing what is right for you at the expense of the customer or doing what is right for the customer even if it costs you, then are customer-centric if and only if you do what is right for the customer and take the hit.”

If you want to drill deeper into  the defining characteristics of a ‘customer-centric’ business then read the following:  The Three Pillars of Customer-Centricity

Bob Thompson shared the results of research he had been involved in some years ago.  When customers were asked what constituted ‘customer-centricity’ they came up with:  product quality/fitness for purpose; customer service excellence; being treated fairly; and price.  Bob made a big play, as do others, about price only being fourth on the list.  I will be writing a post on the price myth soon.

2.  Only a handful of companies  can be pointed at as being models of the ‘customer-centric’ orientation

Whilst we could not agree upon what singles out a ‘customer-centric’ business from one that is ‘not customer-centric’ we were able to agree that there are only a handful of companies that get pointed out as being ‘customer-centric’: Zappos, Amazon, SouthWest Airlines, USAA, Zane’s Cycles…….

3. The transition to ‘customer-centric’ business requires a transformation and that is not likely

What is holding back the transition from ‘business as usual’ to authentic ‘customer-centric’ business?  There was a genuine agreement that this requires a transformation in mindset, leadership, culture, business model, organisational structure, performance measurement systems….. What is the likelihood of this transformation taking place voluntarily?  Again there was general agreement that is highly unlikely if not impossible.  There was mention of how the life of big companies is becoming shorter and shorter.  The point being made was that companies get taken over, disassembled, die – as opposed to voluntarily transform themselves.

So any transition to ‘customer-centric’ business will be led by/driven by new entrants who are not encumbered by legacy thinking, legacy organisations, legacy business models, legacy cultures…… And by customers who take up arms and force chang.

4.  Is there any real substance behind all the ‘customer-centric’ talk?

No. The gurus, the consultants and the company insiders agreed that – in their experience companies that make a big fuss/play  on the customer experience and ‘customer-centricity’ are mostly indulging in either ‘self-delusion’ or PR/’messaging’.  Who wants to say that they are not ‘customer-centric’ when it is fashionable to be ‘customer-centric’?  We could only think of Michael O’Leary the CEO of Ryanair.

5.  Why does pretty much anything to do with Customer end up in a technology discussion?

It was interesting to note that the whole Customer field (CRM, Customer Experience, Social Media, Social CRM, Customer Service…) inevitably ends up in a technology discussion.  Why is that?  That is the question that Bob asked  I believe that the consensus was that this is the route of least resistance.  This is what organisations are comfortable in discussing and doing.  The technology as a silver bullet is a powerful myth.  It reassures the Tops and Middles that they can continue doing what they are doing, not have to make any changes, not look at themselves, not confront leadership and management style, nor the business model……..   And of course the technology vendors are great at coming up with new silver bullets and selling them effectively.