Last week I was fortunate enough to attend/participate in a informal gathering (in London) hosted by Bob Thompson (of CustomerThink.com). At this gathering we touched upon a number of topics and in this post I wish to share with you what left an impression upon me.

1. No consensus on what constitutes a ‘customer-centric’ business

Amongst the 10 – 12 gathering (of noted gurus, authors, speakers, consultants) I noted that we did not share a common understanding/definition of what constitutes a ‘customer-centric’ business. I am not sure that I found any strong agreement for my point of view that the defining being of a ‘customer-centric’ business is that of authentic care:

“when you are confronted by the choice of doing what is right for you at the expense of the customer or doing what is right for the customer even if it costs you, then are customer-centric if and only if you do what is right for the customer and take the hit.”

If you want to drill deeper into the defining characteristics of a ‘customer-centric’ business then read the following: The Three Pillars of Customer-Centricity

Bob Thompson shared the results of research he had been involved in some years ago. When customers were asked what constituted ‘customer-centricity’ they came up with: product quality/fitness for purpose; customer service excellence; being treated fairly; and price. Bob made a big play, as do others, about price only being fourth on the list. I will be writing a post on the price myth soon.

2. Only a handful of companies can be pointed at as being models of the ‘customer-centric’ orientation

Whilst we could not agree upon what singles out a ‘customer-centric’ business from one that is ‘not customer-centric’ we were able to agree that there are only a handful of companies that get pointed out as being ‘customer-centric’: Zappos, Amazon, SouthWest Airlines, USAA, Zane’s Cycles…….

3. The transition to ‘customer-centric’ business requires a transformation and that is not likely

What is holding back the transition from ‘business as usual’ to authentic ‘customer-centric’ business? There was a genuine agreement that this requires a transformation in mindset, leadership, culture, business model, organisational structure, performance measurement systems….. What is the likelihood of this transformation taking place voluntarily? Again there was general agreement that is highly unlikely if not impossible. There was mention of how the life of big companies is becoming shorter and shorter. The point being made was that companies get taken over, disassembled, die – as opposed to voluntarily transform themselves.

So any transition to ‘customer-centric’ business will be led by/driven by new entrants who are not encumbered by legacy thinking, legacy organisations, legacy business models, legacy cultures…… And by customers who take up arms and force chang.

4. Is there any real substance behind all the ‘customer-centric’ talk?

No. The gurus, the consultants and the company insiders agreed that – in their experience companies that make a big fuss/play on the customer experience and ‘customer-centricity’ are mostly indulging in either ‘self-delusion’ or PR/’messaging’. Who wants to say that they are not ‘customer-centric’ when it is fashionable to be ‘customer-centric’? We could only think of Michael O’Leary the CEO of Ryanair.

5. Why does pretty much anything to do with Customer end up in a technology discussion?

It was interesting to note that the whole Customer field (CRM, Customer Experience, Social Media, Social CRM, Customer Service…) inevitably ends up in a technology discussion. Why is that? That is the question that Bob asked I believe that the consensus was that this is the route of least resistance. This is what organisations are comfortable in discussing and doing. The technology as a silver bullet is a powerful myth. It reassures the Tops and Middles that they can continue doing what they are doing, not have to make any changes, not look at themselves, not confront leadership and management style, nor the business model…….. And of course the technology vendors are great at coming up with new silver bullets and selling them effectively.