Enlightened Conflict

contrarian customer-centric thoughts

October 10th, 2017
free-bad-advice-business-blog-contrarian

………. another Bruce contrarian thought piece …….

 

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‘To prosper soundly in business, you must satisfy not only your customers, but you must lay yourself out to satisfy also the men who make your product and the men who sell it.’

 

——

Harry Bassett

 

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“We are all manufacturers – making good, making trouble or making excuses. “

 

——

HV Adolt

 

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So.

 

compete head hurtsI have probably had to think about, and talk about, the business concept of “customer centric” more in the past month or so than I have had to do in the past decade or so.

 

I have seen so many customer-centric presentations over the years that made my head hurt I am surprised my head hasn’t exploded yet.

 

Don’t ask me why but the oft-horridly interpreted and often mis-implemented concept is making a comeback.

 

Customer centric, simplistically, is the concept of creating a positive customer experience at every point of the pre sale, sale and post-sale.

 

It’s a word we’ve been using for decades <dates back to direct marketing in the 1960s & largely credited to a marketing guy named Lester Wunderman> and most of us in business don’t really think too much about it because we think it is kind of an obvious ‘given’ in business.

 

The problem is that customer-centric has been mangled to a point where we actually have to figure out some wacky ways to define it <most people use it in the sense of putting the customer at the center of everything that is done>.

Frankly, I’ve never met a business person who said their company wasn’t customer-centric.

 

Everyone talks the talk <and have convinced themselves they actually are>.

Well.

I imagine the topic keeps coming up because research with customers keeps telling these business people convinced they are customer centric that … well … they actually are not.

customer experience delivery gap Bain-and-Company 2005

 

The most famous of the debunkers is Bain and Company who shared this enlightened graph back in 2005:

 

 

 

It showcases the delivery gap between how customers perceive customer service and/or customer experience and how executives perceive the performance of their organization in that context.

 

 

Suffice it to say … that gap, which can be scarily extreme, debunks the myth of customer centric in practice when a company simply looks in a mirror and says “wow I’m good looking.”

 

Here is where contrarian Bruce steps into this game.

 

Most business people sincerely want to make customers strategically important to how they go about their business, but they also know what they see from most “customer centric experts’ is bullshit.

 

Therefore, they do the best they can and know that … well … theory is difficult to pragmatically, effectively, implement.

 

Here is where I differ from most of the customer centric experts:

 

  • The most important letter in customer centric is “I.”

 

legacy learn imagine hope mctague“I” as in “what I am good at” and “what I can actually do really frickin’ well” and as in “what is my Inner truth.”

 

Oops.

 

None of that is “what does my customer want.”

 

Look.

 

I never suggest ignoring the customer but I do suggest that before you ever sit down and talk about any customer centric things philosophically, and practically, you better be sure you know what you are good at, what you can actually do and what are the ‘truths’ <good & bad> of your own organization.

 

Most experts talk about “customer satisfaction” and I talk about thinking of the customer as someone with ongoing annoyance interspersed with occasional boredom and indifference.

 

Whew.

Now that sounds tough for any business person out there <and slightly depressing>.

 

But I tend to believe rather than try and build some rosy view most businesses should face … well … reality.

 

The reality is that once you establish customers SHOULD have high(er) expectations they are bound to go largely unmet.

 

Sorry.

That’s truth.

 

That is an unfortunate truth because the majority of customer centric practices choose to try and establish their own “best” to be judged by and … uh oh … they rarely actually keep up with the actual best of the best <because that “isn’t our positioning or what we are about” or because “oh, that is not our industry” or they simply just cannot match the best of the best>.

 

Setting high expectations means meeting the expectations of “customers” who will define everything by … well … EVERYTHING they encounter & experience.

A B2B customer will start thinking “experience” based on how the Starbucks barista treats them or how the Apple online assistance rep treats them.

 

Yup.irritation indifference

 

If you follow much of the customer centric bullshit being fed you, you will end up facing well informed customers who will be in a perpetual state of indifference and/or irritation.

 

  • Indifference will hit those customer centric practices that customers know are underperforming, and that they can avoid due to sufficient availability of the best of the best. If you’re working for one of those underperforming customer centric practices, the scary thing is not just selling less (or nothing). It’s that indifferent customers will stop being forgiving; they will stop being cooperative and giving you feedback on how to be more like other, better performing competitors. They’ll just leave and never return, without telling you why.

 

  • Perpetual irritation is just as bad: this will occur when customers are forced to buy from an underperforming customer centric practice, due to limited or no availability of what they already know is the best of the best.

 

 

In this light, pay special attention to fake loyalty and postponed purchases:

 

 

  • Fake loyalty: customers will continue to purchase from underperforming customer centric practices if the ‘real thing’ isn’t available. To the underperforming customer centric practices, all may seem quiet on the western front, until the best of the best suddenly does become available. Good examples of fake loyalty can be found in the airline industry: millions of frequent flyers around the world know that Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines and Emirates offer a superior experience, but since these airlines don’t fly on all routes, customers have no choice but to fly with subpar airlines now or then, or all of the time. Count on them to vote with their wallets every time new routes are added by these ‘best of the best’ carriers, even if they’ve never flown with them before.

 

 

  • Postponing purchases: some ‘best of the best’ customer centric practices like Apple actually manage to indirectly convince customers to postpone certain purchases. Many customers would rather wait for the iPhone or MacBook Air to become available, than to buy a new phone or laptop.

 

So … what should someone do?

 

The power of “I.”

 

inner truth brand position - Copy

….. Bruce’s consumer version of Inner Truth ………

Let me start with a Brucism — I have not found a lot of successful businesses that suck at everything.

In other words … if you have had some success, particularly if you have had some sustained success, it is likely you have <a> some significant expertise in something and <b> pleased some customers in some ways.

 

I am relentless on having businesses find their Inner Truth. It is often a difficult discussion <because it means admitting you are not good at everything> but by finding, isolating an embracing your business Inner Truth it permits the business to find its value core.

Once you find your value core you are able to insure you foster the attitudes & behaviors that feed into that value equation.

In addition, it insures the business leverages off of that foundation for any new ideas or “asks” of the organization itself with regard to new behaviors and decisions.

 

I have said this before and I assume I will say it a gazillion times again … “stop wishing you were something else and start loving who you are.”

That’s sounds like some bullshit Life coaching advice but the truth is more businesses, especially the ones who start discussing customer centric philosophy, should embrace this advice.

 

To be fair <before I begin my constructive enlightening rant> … the foundational aim for any customer centric practices has been and remains the same as always … to express singularities which consistently distinguish the offering of products and services.

 

And within these singularities … or distinctness … people will seek values, leadership, assurance, clarity … and personality <or character>. Maybe better said … some promise.

 

 

Growing a customer centric practices means it has to fulfill a clear promise. Promises are simple and complex. But suffice it to say, in this case, you make a promise and deliver upon it. Simple as that.

 

Here are some basic steps simplify <or at least clarify> some things that make up the foundation blocks for growing the customer centric practices based on “the power of I”:

 

company assessment

The first step in growing a customer centric practices is to assess the customer centric practices ‘parent’ <the organization itself>. There are several methods for obtaining this information from the end-users but suffice it to say that if you don’t know your company <culture, belief system, aspirations> you will never rear your customer centric practices properly. Never has the quote “be true to thineself’ ever rung more true.

 

good and bad research pepsi

research

Whether you think you need it or not … do some ongoing research.

Research will not only provide qualitative information from key stakeholders, including internal and external customers and influencers, but also flesh out the raw concept that resides in the vision.

The number of interviews will vary according to the typical number of end-users that would have an opinion about your company’s image as well as those ‘inside’ who have an image of what you do well.

The total number of potential end-users may be very small in b2b compared to a consumer product such as toothpaste but suffice it to say you seek to find the gaps & non-gaps of expertise between the organization and end users.

You are seeking some consistent feedback … so you hear the same feedback over and over.

The information collected from the survey is the foundation on which your customer centric practices platform will be established. You may find that once all the results are summarized, the information is very much in-sync with your organization’s internal perception of itself.

 

<note: don’t fool yourself into believing the exercise was a waste of time or a worthwhile effort in this situation … it is not only a sanity check but it also alleviates a lot of second guessing at a later date and plays a significant role in aligning everyone on what matters>.

 

 

Anyway.shared intentions lead people

 

In my experience … 90% of most customer centric discussions that businesses are faced with will begin with the customer.

 

That is the wrong place to begin.

 

Everything begins, and ends, with who you are and what your expertise is and what you can actually deliver. Beyond that … well … customer centric is worthless if you don’t get that right and accept, and embrace, that.

 

 

 

 

Which leads me to the next thing most customer centric experts never tell you <and I am fairly sure most of them don’t think about>.

 

  • Accepting Unevenness.

 

Unevenness?

What do I mean?

customer centric model

 

Well.

 

 

It seems like almost every customer centric discussion seems to incorporate some circle, or some 360degree view, in which you envelop a customer with all the love <functional and emotional> they need to create the utmost satisfaction and undying loyalty.

 

Unfortunately that is just theoretical bullshit because reality is just not that neat.

 

Just as there is no such thing as a well-rounded person there is no well-rounded business in the reality of … well … the real business world.

 

Most customer centric bullshit suggests you need to not only protect yourself on all fronts but also ‘project yourself’ on all fronts.

 

This is crazy.

 

Businesses don’t build themselves that way. Shit. People don’t build themselves that way. You are good at some things and not a good on others.

 

That said … the underlying absurdity in most customer centric modeling is in its suggestion of ‘evenness.’

customer centric learning concept knowledge ignorance

 

The traditional customer centric circle diagram concept suggests you push everyone out toward what they don’t know <boundary of ignorance>.

 

However.

 

Enlightenment, and gaining knowledge to overcome ignorance, is just not that neat.

In fact … it is frustratingly un-neat.

 

Frustrating in that every time you learn something … ignorance still remains … outside your existing knowledge base. And this translates into a state of being perpetually dissatisfied <or the glass is never completely full with knowledge> which obviously can be either encouraging, or discouraging, with a person’s attitude to continue learning.

 

Businesses consistently attempt to fulfill their role in this ‘customer centric process’ by focusing attention on the inside of the circle and keeping everyone carefully inside the boundaries. They do this under the guise of “company consistency.”

 

I imagine the good news is that this helps keep employees from falling off the edge into irrelevant material & learning <and it insures all employees gain knowledge in a logical order> but it also, negatively, impedes upon <a> the way most individuals gain knowledge (which is they follow what interests them) & <b> any knowledge or learning that could be attained outside the sphere of consistency.

 

But here is the really bad news.

 

Organizations are not neat round circles of knowledge. Why? Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, organizations are made up of people, not concepts or robots.

 

As I first wrote about back in 2010  <and have spoken on the topic a number of times> the truth about people is that they become more expert and informed on certain topics at the expense of others. The well rounded circle that might have characterized the “perfect customer centric organization” needs to be replaced by … well … reality.

 

circle of knowledge customer centric learn expertise

The reality of any organization is one of a profile of an expert <or passion on a topic> in some particular domain, and not others, and therefore you will never end up with a perfect circle but rather an ellipse or some wacky trapezoid <or something>, in other words, the circle of knowledge & expertise of any business has inconsistent edges/boundaries.

 

 

 

What this means is that organizations are more like uneven spikey boundaries of expertise & knowledge organisms.

Thinking about your organization with regard to attempting to implement some customer centric concepts will help a business better understand their learning flaws, and learning challenges, but maybe more importantly … better understand their areas of expertise.

 

I say all that because you invariably need to grow your customer centric practices … well … unevenly.

 

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“In short, not only are things not what they seem, they are not even what they are called!”

 

———

Francisco de Quevedo

 

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Lastly <leveraging my last thought off of the unevenness point>.

 

In a hypercritical world <online critiquing driven world> 360degree perfection is a fool’s errand … and, frankly, impossible.flawed and still worthy optimal new people best

 

The more successful path to being the best you can be is … well … be the best you can be on the things you know you can actually be the best you can be day after day after day.

This builds value and believability.

 

Unfortunately most customer-centric gurus start this discussion in the wrong place.

They almost always begin by identifying “weaknesses” or “where we need to improve/be better”. In other words … they begin with what is not an inherent expertise, or something the employees apparently don’t particularly want to do, and make a decision to invest energy attempting to make the organization … well … something they are not naturally.

 

Unfortunately most customer-centric gurus start this discussion in the wrong place.

Customer centric discussions far too often focuses solely on those pesky demanding customers <remember indifference, irritation and unrealistic expectations>. In other words. You are likely to be chasing perpetually dissatisfied, or indifferent until they are dissatisfied, people.

 

That is crazy. Absurd.

 

The better way to be the best customer centric organization is actually to identify what the company does best, that increases customer satisfaction, and say “how can we make our best better” <so we can ‘own’ that expertise>.

 

Some people may read this as “settling.” Or if they want to be harsher suggest that I am stating something ‘lesser than’ a best customer service focused organization.

 

I would tell these ‘some people’ I am a pragmatist and have a tendency to focus on the truths of reality.

 

What do I mean?

 

ideas break the mold new think conformLet’s face it.

 

In the past a company <or their customer centric practices> could get away with not performing at its peak on some things.  Or maybe taking a day off performance wise.

You could because customers didn’t experience full transparency of the best, the cheapest, the first, the most original or the most relevant.

 

Well.

 

That’s all over.

 

And things are bound to get even more radically transparent. I wrote about this years ago and called it “the expectation economy.” http://brucemctague.com/expectations-as-an-economy   Reality dictates you focus on the few things you can master and be an expertise on, offer expectations on those, don’t overpromise on others <even if competitors do> and be ‘customer centric’ by being authentically honest where you are consistently okay and authentically set expectations where you can deliver upon a ‘customer centric promise’ day in and day out.

Reality dictate your customer centric philosophy comes to life in an uneven pattern which actually can stand under the scrutiny of spotlight criticism.

 

In the end.

 

Let me go back to the most important letter in customer centric is “I.”

In this case it is “ideas.”

 

Ideas are the new currency in business, any business, including the service business. If you have a business focused solely on “making the customer happy” you are on a fool’s errand. In today’s interconnected world expectations <and what makes a customer happy> are driven not by your competition nor any realistically relevant industry benchmark … but rather by whatever that customer has uncovered anywhere in the world to establish a benchmark.

If you and your business try to ‘follow the customer expectation’ one-by-one … well … one will quickly become a ‘none’ <as in out of business>.

 

Regardless.

 

Suffice it to say if you are not in the business of generating new ideas to refresh your ‘customer centricity’ you are not competing in the same world as the rest of the businesses out there.

 

I end today’s thought on customer centric with that last one sentence paragraph because inherent in almost any customer centric discussion is NOT any discussion on ideas but rather “satisfaction.”

 

Satisfaction, at its core as a concept, is about “reaction.” In other words, if I am seeking to increase customer satisfaction I therefore seek ways to understand how I can do it <from them> and … well … do it.

 

Ideas are proactive.

 

And maybe that is the most important word, and thought, in this entire diatribe – proactive. 90% of the customer centric presentations I have ever seen have dripped with ‘reactiveness’ … reacting to what customers want in order to make them happy & satisfied <assuming your ultimate value is driven somehow by effective reactiveness>.

 

This makes my head explode.value timeline

 

Reactive value is the lowest value you can achieve.

Conversely.

Proactive value offers you the highest value you can achieve.

 

I will not argue that an effective customer centric organization has to have some good reactive mechanisms in place to show responsiveness to needs but I will argue with any customer centric expert who stops there. True customer centric business is beating the customer to the spot – with ideas, solutions and service.

That is a proactive model. And that is what maximizes value to a customer, breeds real loyalty and … well … insures the business itself constantly pushes out on its own boundaries of ignorance by increasing its circle off knowledge.

 

Anyway.

 

What I do know … or am 90% sure … is that you will not hear or read any of this from the traditional customer centric ‘experts.’ That either makes me a moron or … well … a contrarian.

 

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“I am the sea and nobody owns me.”

———-

Pippi Longstocking

 

Enlightened Conflict