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!