Blog Article

The customer is always right (in the middle)

Posted by Eric S. Pelletier

Eric S. Pelletier

My bank never sleeps. At least that’s what they claim. Yet, whenever they interact with me they sure don’t seem very awake. That creates a problem for me (loss of time and aggravation) and for them (an unhappy customer telling his friends they should bank elsewhere). A driving factor behind this situation is that my bank doesn’t know me. I have been a client for many years and yet they don’t seem to know my patterns. I tend to go to the same branch, shop in the same stores, fly the same airlines, stay in the same hotels, wire money to the same people and institutions, and withdraw money from the same ATMs (yeah, I know… boring life). And yet they still don’t know me.

The answer to this problem is obvious, very obvious. This bank needs to become more customer-centric. It is actually stated high and loud in their strategic plan, along with globalization, innovation and teamwork. Customer-centricity is a very fashionable theme, a cliché in essence. But it is one of these cases where jargon masks the lack of actionable plans to become customer-centric.

Customer-centricity – Forget the cliché and make it happen

When the question of creating more customer-centricity is raised by my clients, I take them through the following exercise:

Customer centricityStep 1: draw your organization by putting the customer literally in the centre. So the bank tellers and the call centres are in the very first circle around the customer, the manufacturing/processing functions are further, and some support functions are very far, like Pluto orbiting the Sun. When clients do that drawing, they visualize all the point of contacts (and there are many…) their organization has with clients.

Step 2: on this bull’s eye, identify where actual knowledge of the customer is located. The client demographics may be in one database, her buying patterns in another, the recorded calls with the call-centres in yet another, a warranty claim elsewhere. You see the picture. There is data in many different locations.

Step 3: map out the processes that tie this customer knowledge to the actual customer – to use an anatomy analogy, what are the capillaries that let information flow both way – from you to the client and back.

Step 4: the aha moment. The connections, those capillaries, are weak or don’t even exist. By weak I mean they have limited bandwidth and do not carry much information. They also tend to be unidirectional, focused mainly on the company’s needs. Your company collects great demographics but does not incorporate the warranty claims feedback in its product design phase.

And then, for the fun of it, Step 5, the embarrassing one: Ask yourself. In your golden executive retreat by a lush golf course, or your weekly top executive meetings, how much time is devoted to actually discussing and resolving customer issues? Yes, unfair step… I know.

Neuroscience shows that we only see things for which we already have a mental pattern. Taking your company through that exercise actually helps it understand and visualize customer-centricity. The client processes you’ll design after this will be much better. So, Customer-centricity – Forget the cliché and make it happen


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  1. Bob Miller

    Bob Miller

    August 27, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Eric. Great topic. I think Companies must commit to three things to be and stay Customer Centric.
    1. They have to commit to go to the “gemba” which is where the customer lives and makes his decisions to do business with you. This is not a phone survey or a market research meeting room. This requires some “ride” alongs. Get permission to sit with or ride with real customers who use your products and services and with those who use a competitor. The objective is to really understand at a personal level how important features and capabilities are to the customer.
    2. They have to accept that what the Company is doing is not the final solution. There are always opportunities to improve the customers experience and to out perform the competition. Pushing yourself to continuously look for, find and develop initiatives to address these opportunities is important.
    3. They have to be willing to “place some bets”. There will be losses. However, there will be wins if you are able to get close to your customer and anticipate their needs.

  2. jean-marc laouchez

    jean-marc laouchez

    August 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I wonder if leaders and people need to genuinelty like themselves and their customers to put them at the center. I have observed that ‘customer-cemtricty’ only exists when caring for customers truly means something. Then, structures and processes are enablers.

  3. Eric S. Pelletier

    Eric S. Pelletier

    September 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

    @ Bob. Great idea indeed. Nothing beats the actual experience of sitting with a client whilst they experience you product/service.

    @Jean-Marc. You are right. I think a true level of empathy and passion one’s clients is essential. When Bill Gates was building Microsoft he had this dream of a PC in every home because it was cool, because it would change people’s lives, because he wanted to share his passion. When Yves Saint-Laurent was designing dresses, he wanted to make women even more beautiful. When BMW produces cars that are fun to drive, they want their customers to enjoy that fun experience. Great companies succeed in creating a genuine positive exchange between themselves and their clients. Feeling what customers want and sharing one’s passion make it happen. this is real customer-centricity.

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