customer-centric customer experienceCustomer experience management is necessary, yet insufficient. Traditionally, organizations have managed customer experience with a mindset of how the company is doing, in order to grow revenue. Consequently, surveys tend to ask more about the company than about the buyer, and customer programs typically emphasize excitement and urgency for new purchases and positive word-of-mouth. While attempting to be customer-centric, this mindset is generally centered more on the company’s, rather than the buyer’s, well-being.

Alternatively, customer experience optimization seeks to align company-wide thinking and actions with buyer preferences across the entire customer experience spectrum, in order to grow both revenue and profit naturally. This somewhat subtle difference can cause a magnitude of difference in the actual customer experience, as well as employee experience and business results. Why? Because growing revenue and profit naturally — without constant investment in generating hype — requires abandoning pet-projects and self-serving attitudes, as well as both small and large actions that aren’t in alignment with what matters to buyers.

(Note: a buyer is anyone who weighs in on the purchase decision and/or uses what will be or was purchased.)

Knowing Who’s Boss
Think about human nature when a new boss comes on board — most employees, even at the executive level, will try to learn all they can about how to get ahead with the boss, because he/she has power to grant assignments, judge performance, recommend promotion, and determine financial outcomes for the employee. It’s common sense to seek alignment with whoever holds the purse strings. But, in reality, who holds the ultimate purse strings? No, not investors — they leave when customers leave. It’s buyers who have ultimate power to judge performance and determine financial outcomes for the company, and consequently, for each department and employee. So shouldn’t it be common sense to seek alignment with buyers?

What Exactly is Customer-Centricity?
The definition of “centric” is: situated in or at the center; central, pivotal, focal, radially symmetrical. Customer-centricity is rooted in motives, and enabled by culture (e.g. an organization’s ways of thinking and doing), structure, and information. At the employee level, to be customer-centric means your first priority is to strive to make it easier and nicer for customers to get and use solutions they’re seeking. And everything else in your job is secondary to that. If your job doesn’t interface with buyers, then your first priority is to make it easier and nicer for your internal customers to get and use solutions they’re seeking, within the context of what external customers need to easily and nicely get and use solutions they seek. At the corporate level, to be customer-centric means your first priority is to have the right product/service work the right way the first time and every time, supported by the right processes, policies, attitudes and decisions — as your recipe for success in maximizing revenue, minimizing costs, and mutually pleasing employees, customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders.

1) Take the Customer Perspective
The first step in shifting to customer experience optimization mode is to inspire employees to take the customer perspective, seeking to know your customers’ world better than your competitors do.
Customer Centric Culture
This mindset constantly explores what the customer is doing and why, and how the company can contribute to buyers’ well-being, as the means toward both revenue and profit growth naturally. To see things the way customers do, you have to make as much effort to thoroughly understand their frustrations as you do to learn their delight factors. Until you can see the customers’ world as they do, you’ll be speaking a foreign language to them, to some degree, in what you deliver as the customer experience.

2) Customer-Focused Decisions as a Way of Life
The second step in shifting to customer experience optimization mode is to instill customer-focused decision-making as a habit among all employees, and as a way of life.
Customer centric leadership
This mindset does not stop at front-line employees’ impact on buyers — everyone company-wide is expected to understand the snowball effect of their role on customer experience. Customers don’t care about departments — they see a brand as one entity. Hence, customer-focused decision-making requires relentless silo-busting and stakeholder management, and employee engagement within the context of customer experience requirements.

3) Engage Cross-organizationally for Customer Experience Excellence
The third step in shifting to customer experience optimization mode is to engage employees to resolve and prevent issues for customers, by collaborating cross-organizationally for customer experience excellence.
Customer Centric Actions
This mindset does not stop at resolving issues at customer touch-points. Systemic resolution of problems and prevention of issues for customers is the best way to minimize costs and maximize morale for employees and customers alike. Customer-aligned actions go beyond technology and revenue tools to transform the company in accordance with what matters most to buyers. Policies and strategies, as well as processes and tactics — and pre- and post-purchase experiences, as well as the product/service per se — are constantly explored for ways to sustainably differentiate customer experience.

True Characteristics of Customer Experience
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: customer experience management, as it has traditionally been practiced, is certainly an excellent step forward for any organization. Yet, with the enduring chasm between companies’ and buyers’ views of what customer-centricity really is, every organization still has a continuing journey in taking their game to the next level of accuracy and effectiveness. Each of us is a customer ourselves. So theoretically, we should each be an expert in seeing the customer perspective, making customer-focused decisions, and acting cross-organizationally for consistent customer experience excellence. Somehow there’s a disconnect in our thinking as a customer and our thinking toward customers. It’s ironic. Quite simply, it’s all about remembering who’s boss.

Traditional management practices have confused us about who’s boss. Revenue or profits as the purpose of a business is a misnomer — every organization, and every job, exists to serve a customer need — and profits are a necessary and desirable byproduct of meeting those needs both effectively and efficiently. Let’s re-educate ourselves about the true characteristics of customer experience as we all know them: customers see through a solution provider’s motives and reward genuine sincerity for the customer’s well-being.