The biases of the customer oriented organization

Customer-centricity is not option and it’s the word leaders and managers are repeating all day long, endlessly. In the digital era a business can’t be anything else than customer centric. Funnily, it often makes me wonder that businesses were before going customer-centric.

In fact the exhortation made to employees to focus on the customer, to be obsessed with him is nothing new. We only reached a paroxysm because of a gap between words and reality and between leaders and laggards that’s never been so wide. Hence the need to repeat the message again and again. But to repeat it to whom ?

To the customer to convince him that the business really cares about him ?

To employees to make them act accordingly.

There is no customer orientation but evidences of customer orientation.

None of these approaches works.

We all know that “There is no love but evidences of love”. It’s the same with customer orientation. Client don’t listen to the promise but judge based on their experience.

Regarding employees I don’t think that they don’t care about customers, most of all those who are in direct contact with him. But it’s true that the gap between the received injunction and the means they’re provided with is often demotivating.

Repeating again and again that the customer is at the heart of the strategy and exhorting employees to be obsessed with the customer may lead to some biases.

Customer obsession is not about sales pressure

First it’s about sensemaking. When they say the customer is at the center of the business, not all leaders and execs mean the same thing. Is the customer someone to care about ? Someone to sell something to ? In many organizations that have a poor client culture, customer obsession often means sales pressure. “Be obsessed with the client” means “don’t leave them time alone, sell, sell, sell !”. That’s a exact opposite of what a customer centric does. Customer centric organization think in terms of attention, satisfaction and take care of their customers.

Removing customers friction points is good. Moving it to employees is wrong.

Being customer centric also mean seamless journeys and experiences. But most businesses do not actually remove friction points, they only move it to employees. The problem still exists even if the customer don’t see it anymore and the employee gets one more pain point, struggles and loses motivation.

Customer centricity is about removing friction points. Removing, not moving. Customer experience can’t be built to the detriment of employee experience.

When the employee is customer-centric, who’s employee centric ?

The internal message on customer centricity can also be devastating. It’s obvious that a customer centric organization will put the customer first in any decision and message to make employees understand that they should do the same. Hence internal communications full of “for our clients”, “because our clients”, “our clients challenges””. That’s common sense.

But things can go wrong when employee realize that they don’t exist in the internal communications anymore. A CHRO recently told me that, a little time ago, his company was so focused on explaining it’s new customer centric strategy that it stopped taking about the employee. Which the employees noticed. Nothing like “for you”, “to help you”, “thanks to you”. When a business always talk of the client with its employees but never of the employees nor with the employees, things can quickly go wrong. Even it it was un unintentional fail, the impact on employee engagement was huge.

Customer orientation is key and there’s no discussion about it. But the way it’s being done and communicated can ruin the intention in a short amount of time. Maybe it’s time for a new paradigm in customer centricity. Paul Greenberg recently highlighted the  need to shift from “customer-centric” to “customer-engaged”. A path worth being explored.


Photo Credit : Fotolia.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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