Written by Rik Vera

Being a customer-centric company: it’s the Holy Grail of any organisation in the world, from the smallest start-up right up to the largest incumbent. It is on our websites, in our missions and weaved through our strategies. We really do believe that our Customer IS our King. And yet. A lot of organisations work, build, communicate and manage in a manner that lacks any form of coherence with what they are declaring. If we are truly honest, we are not really obsessed with making our customers happy. Most of us are completely controlled by one question only: “How can WE make better products faster for the least amount of money so that WE can maximise profits?”

Stop lying about customer-centricity – it is poisoning you

You don’t even know you’re putting your customer last

In most cases, the own products and services are dictating the entire organization. The logistics, the processes, management, working climate, culture and staff behaviour: all of these are placed BEFORE the customer experience, before that `beloved’ customer so many organisations claim to be putting first. In fact, what most are really doing is pushing the customer last, because they are still controlled by the principles of the industrial era: a time when every process and procedure was aimed at operational efficiency and product leadership. That was only logical in an era when customer-centricity was not a burning issue, as the relationship between owner and seller was still basically eye-to-eye and one-to-one.

In platform companies, the customer IS the service

But the world has changed. Big Time. And a lot of companies failed to follow. Yes, they have `gone digital’, with better solutions for employees and better ways to woo customers. They might even have shifted their culture a bit, flattening their organisation (but not too much, because that’s too scary). But if the starting-point of everything they do – including making their customer happy – is their own organisation, then they are just a few years away from their demise. In the age of platforms, this inside-out thinking WILL ultimately poison you. Platform companies like Uber and Alibaba literally tailor each and every action to the customer. In some cases, you could even say that the customer IS the service. Spoilt to death by these customer-centric geniuses, consumers no longer tolerate products and services that are not exactly like they are.

The only ones to survive this shift will be the ones who reverse their organisations. The ones that overturn their entire structure and processes. Every thought, action and process has to start with the customer. Processes and solutions will no longer be the leading dynamic, …. customer experience will. For most organisations this will be a major transformation. 

Holacracy, intrapreneurship or "tribes" are not the first answer

It is NOT about changing your culture

Granted, we have come to a point where an increased number of organisations are understanding that being too process-driven and product-centric is not the way to go. But their answers are still wrong. Let me compare. Remember the ‘open-plan offices’? Companies thought: “let’s break down all the walls, splash some neat colours on the ones that remain – maybe add an inspirational slogan or two about teamwork – , put some design furniture in the office … and “Tadaaaa!”, we have a collaborative environment!” Then they were disappointed that this was not enough to change their corporate culture. You may smile at those “silly” organisations now, but what is happening today is very similar. A lot of companies are screaming “let’s change our culture” and they think that is what will make them truly customer-centric. They want to be a “tribe”, try on holacracy for size, nurture intrapreneurs or – from one day to the next – demand (oh, the irony) that their employees become self-managed. Yes, culture is a major element of company and, yes, new organisational formats are necessary, but real change is a step-by-step journey. And when you start at the wrong point, you will never end up where your customer wants you to.

THE big question, the ONLY question you should ask yourself - if you really want to adapt to this VUCA world - is: “Who is my customer, what does (s)he want and which experience will make him or her happy?”. Once you know that, you can start thinking about the matching company values, how these should drive employee behaviour which; in turn; will determine your culture which is the basis of how you manage…

Customer First is simply not enough

The first model above is visually organised in a linear manner for reasons of clarity. But we all know that the actual truth is quite messy. And when I say “quite”, I mean “hugely”. Humans love linear thinking, though. First there’s A and B, then C. Step one and step two are followed by step three. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It soothes us. It works in (seemingly) logical moves. But reality is not linear. Companies are not linear. And our employees or our customers, certainly do not behave in a linear manner.

 

That’s why customers should not JUST come first – i.e. be the starting-point of all your actions – and lead staff behaviour which should drive your culture which then determines your processes. They ought to be put at the very centre – in the beating heart – of a company. An organisation is a complex network and each and every process, procedure, strategy and action – each separate node - ought to be firmly connected to the customer. That - and only that - is the true meaning of being customer-centric. All the rest is a lie.

Would you like to find out if nexxworks can help you put your customer at the heart of your company? Contact booking@nexxworks.com.