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David Sims Customer Experience & Customer Centricity Evolving

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 By David Sims

Does Customer Centricity Have a Future?

"Many buyers today avoid forming relationships with sellers. They want to get in, transact, and get out effortlessly, with the least possible seller interaction." So begins a thought-provoking -- and thoughtful comment-provoking white paper, titled "After Customer-Centricity Comes...?" from High-Yield Methods Principal Dick Lee, an old veteran of CRM.

Lee describes himself as a staunch customer-centric advocate now "questioning customer-centricity's future." He describes his view of what a truly customer-centric organization does, including "listening to what customers say they want instead of telling them what to buy," "accepting that buyers are taking over the selling process to avoid seller influence" and "realizing that 'company policy' is a four-letter word to customers," then says most companies calling themselves "customer-centric" are in reality far from it.

In fact, as CustomerThink guru Bob Thompson notes in the aforementioned thoughtful comments, many companies say they're "focused" on customers the way a hunter's "focused" on a deer: "'Customer-focused' is also commonly used to mean 'customer-targeted.' Companies are focused on their customers so they can make more money from them, via targeted marketing for example. But the customers don't perceive it as the company genuinely caring about their needs."

Since 2008, Lee says, being "customer-centric" has usually meant a company concentrated on "motivating, training and empowering employees." He contends that while customers have changed since then, companies have not, clinging to outdated implementations which are little more than a mishmash of CRM, CEM (Customer Experience Management), various "customer alignments" and targeted marketing.

Customers today, Lee says, are "activist customers," harder for sellers to influence than in the past. Among other behaviors, he sees customers today losing the herd mentality, frustrating attempts for companies to find easily-exploitable commonalities across customers, becoming more cynical and less civil and taking to social media more readily to undercut brands' own control of their identity. Customers care less about "win-win" interactions and just want the best for themselves, resist profiling from companies and don't really want to hear from companies.

And let's lose this idea that customers want to be in "communities" with sellers. They do not. Social media research shows that while 61 percent of businesses think customers interact with them via social media to "be part of a community," only 22 percent of customers actually do.

Orthodox customer-centric doctrine preaches doing what customers want. "But that’s unsustainable when customers keep wanting more and more," Lee says, adding that achieving true differentiation in the market is much harder than first thought, maybe impossible in many cases. Might the best sellers hope for is simply not to offend customers?

To avoid that gruesome fate, Lee outlines seven ways to cope with the new customer expectations:

  1. Minimize the volume of customer complaints. Customers don't just complain to their families and bowling buddies when sellers screw up, they Facebook, tweet and otherwise broadcast your incompetence far and wide.

  2. Shift promotional resources over to operations. Product quality and service delivery are more important to customers than branding. Or put another way, take care of product quality and service and branding will take care of itself.

  3. Streamline seller organizations. Speed up cycle times and pricing flexibility -- Lee recommends "redesigning process from points of customer contact inward."

  4. Present as much information as possible online. Customers perceive companies withholding information as being manipulative and untrustworthy.

  5. Clearly differentiate web and retail shopping options. Use retail for "product + service" offerings the web can’t support, Lee says, explaining that this "tracks with where customers are already headed."

  6. Deal with differing sets of buyer expectations differently. One size does not fit all.

  7. Play it straight with customers. Companies perceived as being untrustworthy lose customers.

Switching to a genuinely customer-centric model as outlined by Lee will result in some painful internal turf battles within organizations -- he sees marketing, sales and supervisory roles suffering, and "product management" hopefully disappearing. The new areas of emphasis should be customer service, process and quality functions, he says, with less offshore customer service. Instead of producing sales hype, he says, hire editorial writers to produce articles, research papers and white papers -- "among the few marketing offers B2B customers continue to value."

The end goal of customer-centricity, as summed up by CustomerThink's Thompson, is "a culture that focuses on delivering value to the customer. And of course doing so in a way that also drives value to company stakeholders."

That goal isn't going away anytime soon, it's just that dogmatic customer-centricity is no longer seen as the only way to get there. Some elements will remain, but in a broader approach. End

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Many companies say they're "focused" on customers the way a hunter's "focused" on a deer: "'Customer-focused' is also commonly used to mean 'customer-targeted.' Companies are focused on their customers so they can make more money from them, via targeted marketing for example. But the customers don't perceive it as the company genuinely caring about their needs."

 

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