Now and then a question comes along that provokes my thinking. Here’s a question that I came across recently expressed in different ways:
- What does putting the customer at the centre of the business look like?
- What does it mean to put the customer at the centre of the business?
- What are the implications (for us) of putting the customer at the centre of the business?
Stop. Hold the automatic weapons fire – the hail of ready made generic and almost always abstract and theoretical answers.
Many years ago I came home after a long difficult day. Upon entering our flat my two year old rushed towards me with a huge smile and with both his arms held up. As I lifted him up and gave him a hug, I found myself making a decision: to put him at the centre of my life.
Grappling with that question it became clear to me (over some weeks) that it meant that his wellbeing came first. That my decisions and actions had to be mindful of the impact on his well being. It also became clear to me that his wellbeing was tied to the wellbeing of his mother – he spent most of his waking life with his mother.
Did it stop there with that abstract realisation? No. Looking at the way of my living it became clear to me that work came first in the way I showed up and travelled. My son and his mother, got what was left for me to give after I had given all to work. As I was often away from home during the week this meant that he got to spend time with me only at the weekends.
I made a decision – to do just enough at BigConsultingCo whilst actively looking to move to a smaller more local employer. Within a year, I left BigConsultingCo and moved over to a software company which was five minutes drive from home. And for which I did not have to travel….
Let’s be clear on one thing: putting my son’s wellbeing first meant, for me, giving up chasing the promotion to partner in BigConsultingCo. It also meant leaving a world with which I was familiar/comfortable and walking into a new industry / new company and having to learn a new way of doing business.
Back to the question of putting the customer at the centre of your business – your particular business. What are your answers to the questions I shared earlier?
It occurs to me that you can put the customer at the centre of your business in at least two ways. You can take the busy road where you will find many: you can put the customer at the centre of your business with a view to learning all you can about that customer, and using that knowledge to influence, shape, manipulate customer behaviour so as to enrich you. Which may account for the fact that customer loyalty has been declining even whilst big brands have been spending a fortune on their IT armoury.
Alternatively, you can take the road less travelled. You can focus your efforts on gaining a deep understanding of your customer and using this insight to enrich the life of your customer. How do you enrich the life of the customer? No generic answer will do. You have to generate this answer for your customer, your business. It requires insight – insight into the life of your customer, the expressed needs, and the hidden unexpressed needs/wants.
Apple has enriched the life of their customers through compelling/superior products, a distinctive/superior in-store experience, and premium image. Amazon has done it through an effortless convenient shopping experience and value for money pricing. John Lewis has done it through a combination of good products, outstanding service provided by friendly knowledgeable human beings, and a culture of integrity.
Enough for today. I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…