Almost three years ago to the date, I wrote a post titled, Customer Understanding: The Cornerstone of Customer-Centricity. I’ve been speaking about it much longer than that because it’s an important concept to understand and to execute on if you want to be a customer-centric organization. Customer understanding truly is the cornerstone.

But what is a cornerstone? According to Wikipedia, it is…

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.

With that definition, you can very quickly see why I’ve used that to describe customer understanding. Because customer-centricity, as I define it, looks like this…

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.

Customer understanding is that first “stone” set in the foundation (culture) of the organization. Then everything else you do (discussions, decisions, designs) is set in relation to that.

You can’t make any improvements, you can’t design an experience, you can’t transform anything, without customer understanding, without data and insights about your customers. You must first understand customers and their pain points, problems to solve, and jobs to be done. After all, who are you in business for?

That understanding must be ingrained in the culture. There must be this foundation (culture) to support and to uphold the fact that understanding is the cornerstone, that it is the catalyst to make changes and to design and deliver the experience your customers desire.

Now you can start to see the connection between the foundation (culture) and the cornerstone (customer understanding). Customer understanding feeds the customer-centric culture. It informs it. It must be woven throughout the organization’s DNA. And, in addition to the values and the behaviors, it drives the culture you want.

What is Customer Understanding?
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a refresher. Customer understanding is all about learning everything you need to know about your customers, i.e., their needs, their pain points, the jobs they are trying to do, and their current experiences, in order to deliver the experience they expect going forward.

It’s about seeing, feeling, experiencing, and learning through the eyes of the customer, through the customer’s heart and mind. Sounds like empathy, right? Well, it is – it does build empathy for the customer.

Customer understanding puts the “customer” in customer experience, informs your customer experience strategy, and ultimately, drives business growth.

As you know by now, there are really three ways to achieve customer understanding: Listen (feedback/data), Characterize (personas), and Empathize (journey maps). I wrote about these in detail in my first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience and at the Heart of Your Business.

In Wikipedia, the definition of cornerstone goes on to say…

Over time a cornerstone became a ceremonial masonry stone, or replica, set in a prominent location on the outside of a building, with an inscription on the stone indicating the construction dates of the building and the names of architect, builder, and other significant individuals. The rite of laying a cornerstone is an important cultural component of eastern architecture and metaphorically in sacred architecture generally. Some cornerstones include time capsules from, or engravings commemorating, the time a particular building was built.

Let’s not allow customer understanding to become a ceremonial masonry stone. Too many companies are already doing that – checking a box. Let’s ensure that it truly is the cornerstone, that all else the organization does flows from there.

By putting forth the effort to better understand the habits, tendencies, and value of each and every one of our customers, you can build better, stronger, and more profitable companies. ~ Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, Wharton University

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she 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. In 2021, she wrote the manuscript for her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is now available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Built to Win.