Customer Centricity – The Management Fad We Can Hop On

by Jared M. Spool

If your executive team isn’t talking already about Customer Centricity, they will be soon. It’s the latest in management fads to make the rounds.

Customer Centricity is exactly what it sounds like: using customer insights to steer every decision made in your business. Its proponents promise organizations will see great benefits, increasing profits and cementing market leadership. This is why it’s become a popular topic in the top business magazines and at executive leadership events.

Proponents claim that organizations who invest in Customer Centricity are 60% more profitable, double the return on shareholder equity, and double their pre-tax returns on assets, sales growth, and market share, when compared to their less customer-centric counterparts. Who wouldn’t want that for their organization?

The latest in a long line of management strategies.

Packaged management strategies, such as Customer Centricity, fall in and out of favor like the latest weight-loss diet. These strategies appeal mostly to executives who seek to explain why other organizations are seeing great success while their own organization struggles. They desire a package of proven strategies they can rally their troops around, hoping to see a dramatic improvement in meeting their customer’s needs.

Customer Centricity is currently the latest in a long line of pre-packaged management strategies. Its predecessors include Design Thinking, Jobs to be Done, Customer Experience Transformation, Digital Transformation, Six Sigma, ISO 9000, and Total Quality Management. Customer Centricity is also the management strategy that’s the most compatible to what we’re trying to do with our organization’s user experience initiatives.

In recent years, several of the pre-packaged management strategies have inched our organizations closer to focusing on delivering great user experiences. Until Customer Centricity, they haven’t quite gotten there.

Starting back in 2014, Forrester Research promoted their strategy of transforming marketing departments to be Customer Experience focused. While it helped the pre-sales efforts pay more attention to customers, it wasn’t easy to integrate with post-sales product delivery work.

In 2016, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen popularized Jobs to be Done. By asking “what job is our customer hiring us for?”, Jobs to be Done forced organizations to pay more attention to their customers than they ever had before. However, neither Clayton nor the consultants selling Jobs to be Done made any acknowledgment of the research necessary to discover the customer’s jobs. Without the research, most organizations struggled to scale the strategy.

In 2017, IDEO’s David Kelley started popularizing Design Thinking. This has caught on with many executive teams and organizations have made big investments in team training. Yet, there’s very little to show for it, primarily because the strategy doesn’t go beyond the initial idea generation phase. Its high-level approach doesn’t help with the low-level details necessary to deliver a great product or service.

Customer Centricity aligns with UX design maturity.

Unlike its pre-packaged management strategy predecessors, Customer Centricity’s core philosophy is to empower every individual in the organization to focus directly on the customer. It aligns directly with how UX design leaders work to improve the UX design maturity of their organization.

The ultimate goal of UX design leaders is to transform every team to become UX-design infused. Not only are there UX designers involved in every major initiative, but every member of each team needs to have the expertise to make smart design decisions.

When the executive leadership employs a customer-centric approach, they’re guiding the organization to become more design mature. As UX design leaders, we can use this to our advantage in a way we never could with previous pre-package management strategies.

Mapping our work to Customer Centricity.

A solid introduction to Customer Centricity is Denise Lee Yohn’s excellent Harvard Business Review article, 6 Ways to Build A Customer-Centric Culture. In her article, Denise lays out six specific actions organizations must undertake to become truly customer-centric. We can map our UX design leadership work directly into these strategies.

Operationalize customer empathy.

Denise tells executives they need to go beyond lip service about customer needs and make sure every employee is fully aware of where the pain points are for customers. Only when employees understand what customers need can they start to deliver products and services that meet those needs.

When UX teams surface and communicate their knowledge of the customer experience, they inform the entire organization. Customer journey maps, service blueprints, and other tools that promote the user’s experience provide deep insights into what it’s like for a customer today.

Hire for customer orientation.

Denise recommends every employee, including all new hires, make the customer and their needs a priority. Customer-centric organizations ensure their hiring process delivers new employees who are aligned to customer-centric thinking.

Making customer needs a priority when hiring will get the right people into the organization. However, they’ll still need to learn what the rest of the organization already knows about the customers. UX teams speed onboarding by providing UX training materials and workshops to introduce every new employee to the users and their needs.

Democratize customer insights.

Denise correctly points out that every employee must understand the most important insights we’ve learned about our customers and what they need. Not only must they understand where the customer’s experience needs improvement, but it’s also important that everyone understand how we plan to address it.

UX Experience Vision is a powerful tool for showing what a better experience looks like. It tells the story of what it’s like to be a customer in the near future (such as five years from now). This communicates to everyone where we’re trying to go based on the insights we’ve identified. As the UX team crafts and shares that vision throughout the organization, everyone can understand what work is left to be done and how they can contribute to it.

Facilitate direct interaction with customers.

In Denise’s article, she emphasizes every employee must see how their work directly affects the customer’s user experience, even those who work in back-office functions that don’t normally interact with customers. Reading reports or watching the occasional highlight video of a frustrated user don’t communicate this well. Instead, we need employees to observe the customer directly interact with our organization’s products and services.

UX teams already have a tool for this: increasing exposure hours. There’s no better way to learn what makes the user experience frustrating than to see it first hand, while it’s happening.

This isn’t just for using an app or a website. Our customers become frustrated by our customer service and sales processes too. We need to expose every co-worker to the entire life journey of our customers.

Link employee culture to customer outcomes.

Denise also recommends metrics be put into place to ensure people see how their behavior and work leads to achieving the goals in the customer’s experience. Teams need to measure both customer-facing interactions and back-office operations.

The UX team is perfectly positioned to come up with the right measures. By identifying and studying the desired outcomes in the customer’s experience, teams can identify the best measures to track. By going beyond the numbers and studying the behaviors that lead to the metrics, the team delivers new insights for further improvements.

Tie compensation to the customer.

This is Denise’s strongest action. An update to the organization’s compensation model sends the bold message that this isn’t just a passing fad.

Knowing Customer Centricity is coming, design leaders should identify critical UX measures to use as the basis for organization incentive programs. This puts the UX effort at the center of the Customer Centricity initiative. It will make everyone in the organization solidly aware of the customer’s experience, while putting the UX leadership in the position of guiding the organization to the next level.

Making UX the core of a Customer Centricity initiative.

Customer Centricity is a management fad that’s worth hitching our wagon to. Like its predecessors, it’s defined vaguely enough that there’s much play in the nitty-gritty details of how the organization puts it into action.

That opens the door for attentive UX leadership to use their team’s skills and expertise to drive the initiative from within. Under the Customer Centricity flag will be an organizational machine made up of great UX practices and strategies. The UX leadership can then drive the entire organization, with the strong support of the executives who have “discovered” this new management strategy, to deliver better-designed products and services.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

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