Ten tell-tale signs that show you’re not that customer-centric

It’s not what you say, it’s what you do (or don’t)

Are you customer-focused, customer-driven or customer-centric? If you’re any of those things that’s probably why you’re reading this, but does the organisation you work for feel the same way?

In our work with CX leads we come across a real tension between what companies say they care about and what they actually do. Very often, the tension is so great that it’s a real disconnect. The result? Wasted effort on customer initiatives that don’t have sufficient momentum and under-realise potential benefits.

So, what can you do about this? It’s best to start with what the organisation does: a good reflection of the environment within which a culture of customer obsession can grow. Here’s my take on the tell-tale signs that will tell you that – unless addressed – getting genuine customer focus to take root will be tough.

1. Customers don’t figure in strategy

This is the obvious one, so let’s get it out of the way first. But before I do, I should say that there is no hard-and-fast rule that says you must have customer focus to have business success. You can build a company that successfully prioritises other things: being faster and/or cheaper than the competition, creating innovative products. And in most cases, you’ll need enough customers to buy your super-cheap or fabulously innovative products so obviously that’s part of any business strategy. But if caring for customers, creating a superior service experience, enabling employees to make customers happy, including customers in your community or other words like that don’t feature in your strategy – and even more critically in the plans and budget allocations that follow – then it’s a good bet that your company is driven by something else.

And that’s fine, but just don’t expect a long CX career there.

2. No-one is curious about customers

One characteristic of successful customer-driven companies is that everyone – from the CEO to the front-line – is interested in what customers think, what they want and what they aspire to. That shows up in a number of ways: senior execs don’t go “back to the floor” once a year, they talk to customers and the people whose day job is to provide a service to them on a weekly or even daily basis.

When you have people in your organisation who are curious about customers, you get ideas and you get genuine conversations about customer outcomes that help you build killer propositions. The converse is that if you don’t come across this quality on a regular basis, your organisation is almost certainly focused elsewhere.

3. One measure is pursued relentlessly

As fellow contributors have argued (here and here) it’s senseless to focus all your efforts on measure of customer satisfaction or customer success when customer behaviour is such a complex thing.

It’s one of the subtler symptoms of a lack of customer focus that a focus on one measure of success – yes, Net Promoter Score I’m talking about you – means that an organisation can kid itself that it’s customer-focused when in fact it’s paying lip-service to customers with one simplistic measure. And when you relentlessly pursue the one measure, people get rewarded on it and then start to influence the measure rather than what the measure tells you.

Life, and customers, are much more complex than that, and your measures should reflect that.

4. Complaints are seen as a problem

Does your organisation have a well-resourced complaints department that deals with customer feedback in a prompt and positive manner? Or is the prevailing view that complaints originate from a few awkward customers who probably weren’t in your target market anyway? If it’s the former then you’re mining the rich seam of customer feedback for some customer-driven improvement but if it’s the latter then that’s another sign that something else is the focus, and it isn’t the customer.

5. Difficult or vulnerable customers are shut out or marginalised

Well, no-one would have this as an explicit strategy but it’s a symptom of having an idealised view of the customer rather than reflecting the messy reality that people find themselves in. One way of testing this is to look at your organisation’s policy for vulnerable customers: does it exist, and if so, is it translated into action that means that customers who don’t fit the “norm” are catered for and treated equivalently? Being customer-centric means being focused on all your potential customers.

6. Social media is not understood

I’m often staggered by the ineptitude of media campaigns generally, particularly where the brand takes a bit of a battering as a result of poor service performance. In these situations, social media appears deaf to customer feedback. So, if you see your organisation failing to respond constructively to grumpy tweets or fractious Facebook posts then there’s a good chance that customer-centricity has failed to take root in your marketing department.

7. Cost-cutting hits the contact centre first

Where a business allocates its budgets is a good indicator of what its priorities are. So, if your contact centre is under pressure to cut costs that’s a sign that customers might not be a priority. But again, this is a subtle sign: spending more on contact centres could mean that your organisation can’t stop customers calling who’d rather not have to sit in a call queue for ages. But if the focus is to cut costs first and then ask why customers are contacting you, it’s a sure sign that cost-saving comes before customer experience.

8. Digital streamlining is everything

Of course, the reason for cutting contact centre costs is usually to direct people online where the chances are that they will receive a slicker, more streamlined service. That’s absolutely the right thing to do. But if your streamlined service is at the expense of human contact to handle exceptions, queries or special assistance then you’re digitally excluding part of your customer base.

9. Silos are indestructible

Despite the protestations of management theorists, organisations today look much like they did 30 or more years ago, with Sales, Marketing, Operations and Finance all with a seat at the top table. I’m not advocating a different way of organising as an essential part of being customer-centric: as far as I’m concerned, we’ll need those functions and disciplines for at least the next 30 years. But if the functions turn into indestructible silos, with no genuine co-operation between them, then customer-driven efficiencies from cross-functional processes are going to be hard to generate.

10. Jerks get promoted

In this article I’ve not focused that much on the creation of a positive, customer-focused culture, possibly because you can’t be that prescriptive about what works. It’s easier to focus on what doesn’t help and I have argued elsewhere that the prevalence of assholes in an organisation can have negative consequences for performance. So, if you’re in an organisation that promotes people despite their negative, self-centred or bullying behaviour then you’re in an organisation that it not committed to employees’ happiness and, without that, customer happiness is likely to be in short supply.

Look on the bright side

Customer-centricity isn’t the only game in town, but if you’re in a role that espouses it whilst your organisation shows signs – as illustrated above – that it’s got different priorities then you could be in for a stressful time.

On the positive side, if it’s genuinely committed to becoming more customer-focused, then any of those ten tell-tale signs will be a great place to start your change initiative.



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