The terms “customer-centric” and “customer-centricity” get thrown around a lot; oftentimes, it’s quite clear that they’re being used out of turn. I believe “customer-centric” is often confused with “customer focus,” and the two are very different.
Let’s look at some definitions.
Customer focus means that, well, a brand focuses on the customer. All brands will say they focus on the customer. They listen to the customer (surveys, surveys, surveys), but they don’t really take the time to understand their customers. There’s no real differentiation of who customers are – everyone is treated equally. As a customer. They approach customers tactically and reactively. It’s short-term and transactional: What does she want? How can we be nice to her? What can we do to get her to buy from us or to come back again? Customer focus happens at the frontline, person to person/face to face. Customer focus is self-serving in that it is used to achieve business goals, not customer goals.
Customer-centric is much deeper than that. In its most basic sense, it means to put the customer at the center of all the business does. (It does not mean that you will always say “Yes” to everything the customer asks for, nor does it mean that the customer is always right.) But that really means that you take the time to understand your customers (customer understanding is the cornerstone of customer-centricity) and then don’t make any decisions without thinking of the customer and the impact that those decisions have on her. To define a customer-centric organization, I like to say: No discussions, no decisions, no designs without bringing in the customer and her voice (that’s the understanding piece), without asking how it will impact the customer, how it will make her feel, what problems it will help her to solve, what value it will create and deliver for her. It’s strategic. It’s proactive. It’s co-creation. It’s long-term. It’s relationships. It’s omnichannel. It’s enterprise-wide. And it’s a culture that is deliberately designed to be this way. Customer-centricity flows through the veins of the organization and into everything every employee does – not just if or when a customer is in front of her.
Here’s where the confusion arises. I have read a lot of articles that refer to a company’s customer-centric behavior, customer-centric marketing, customer-centric processes, etc. In the words of Inigo Montoya, I do not think it means what you think it means. As the articles carry on, it becomes especially clear that the term that should be used is customer-focused behavior. Customer-centric behavior is ingrained in the culture; customer-focused behavior is only for some people (sales, service, customer-facing employees) in the organization. (That’s how I view it. They are not two sides of the same coin.) And that’s what these articles are referring to: tactical things that are being done in that moment to ensure that the customer stays, buys, or returns.
To be customer-centric requires four inputs: leadership, core values, employees, and customers. More specifically, the eight principles of customer-centricity include:
- Culture as the foundation
- Employee experience/employees more first
- People before products
- People before profits
- People before metrics
- Customer understanding as the cornerstone
- Outside-in vs. inside-out thinking and doing
- The Platinum Rule
It might at first seem nitpicky to compare and contrast these two, but I think it’s an important distinction that has to be made. Don’t just be customer-focused. Be customer-centric. Customer-centric organizations are winning organizations.
Customer-centricity should be about delivering value for customers that will eventually create value for the company. -Bob Thompson
Annette Franz, CCXP is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.
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Thanks for this post as always. In my consulting practice I am faced with clients who do not think they have time to co-create solutions. It has meant acting as far as possible as a proxy customer and using whatever insight is readily available. Sometimes tough but I believe absolutely worth it.
This is definitely a problem. Yes, feedback and other data is helpful, but it’s not the same. I’m curious why they think they don’t have the time to do it. I get that everyone is moving fast, but perhaps it’s time to move more efficiently by bringing the customer in on a regular basis.
I think “the Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld epitomizes a business that makes customers adhere to policies and procedures. Their focus is not the customer, it is business profits and how to maintain them. I worked for a company whose profits were based upon a 3 year contract. If the customer wanted to end the contract early, they had to pay the balance remaining on the contract. Even worse, they had to cancel within 60 days of the end of the contract, or it was automatically renewed for another year. I never felt comfortable with this as a customer advocate and I am still amazed that they are still in business.
Totally agree about the Soup Nazi! LOL. Thanks for sharing that experience… it is amazing that they are still in business. Terrible practice, for sure.