Expanding The Definition: From Customer Centricity to Customer Worthy


I had a very surprising customer experience recently that ended in my canceling a subscription that I started last December. My online “relationship” started and ended within the time span of two months, which ultimately impacted my offline relationship that had been established for years.  For anyone who knows me, I typically don’t like to start a conversation by introducing a negative, but I bring this up in effort to kick off this post with a personal and recent experience upon which to draw from.

 The 50% Club: Go On …Take the Money and Run

I will spare you the details but ultimately it was a take the money and run scenario. The overall experience left me feeling helpless and ripped off.  It was as if I hit the pay button and heard, “Woo hooo…. we got you sucka!” as I imagined a bandit jumping on his horse with a pistol in one hand shooting wildly into the air, as the other held the reigns and a bag full of cash...kicking dust in my face as he rode away to the next town laughing hysterically. "Yee Haw!" Okay a slight exaggeration but humor is my coping mechanism.

But seriously, have you ever felt this way? As a customer, this experience made me wonder what in the heck was going on with this trusted brand that I had known for so long. As a businessperson it brought even more questions like, was this disconnect due to their failed attempt to respond to the changes in the marketplace? How did they view their connection with their customers? And finally, how could they believe this to be a sustainable business model?

It reminded me of a point made inThe New Rules of Retail: Competing in the World’s Toughest Marketplace. In it, the authors Robin Lewis and Michael Dart discuss the importance of having complete control (not necessarily ownership) over the value chain where they predict that 50% of retail and consumer businesses will fail and disappear in this current wave of change. 50% - think about that for a minute.

The authors provide their insights and additional predictions, supporting them with research and findings from studies that they have conducted. They discuss the collapse of traditional models and prove why we must excel in every customer interaction by truly getting to know our customers, understanding and acting upon their preferences and behaviors and providing real value with each interaction. Value as it is determined and defined by them.

Today, it is our responsibility to change and evolve with our customers, without them having to ask us to. Lewis and Dart talk about the power of operational excellence as, “simply a cost of entry” describing a much more “profound thread” connecting the people who will succeed through true customer centricity with strategic imperatives such as:

  • Experiential Superiority/Neurological Connectivity
  • Distribution Superiority/Preemptive Distribution
  • Value Chain Control (not necessarily ownership)

As Michael R Hoffman points out in Customer Worthy (featured further down in this post),

“Each contact a customer has with your company, its products, its services, and its partners is an asset and a pivot point for company success. Every interaction has tremendous revenue opportunity, along with enormous risk potential. Yet customer interactions are the most underused asset in most companies.” 

Customer Centricity…And Our Beloved Customers

As I marinated in my recent experience, I wondered how it was even possible for it to happen. It felt like someone went a little too far with the “tools” forgetting about the fact that there was a living, breathing human being involved.

It made me wish for an experience more like the ones expressed in, I Love You More Than My Dog written by Jeanne Bliss. She focuses on the importance of every customer experience from their view along with the significance that every employee's role and decisions play - even the actions from those who are not in customer facing roles. She talks about what it means to be a “beloved company” and draws upon several examples providing valuable case studies that speak to intent, motivation and  impact along with several personal and heartwarming engagements while she was at Land’s End.

In order to make sure that we can remain competitive and really take care of our consumers versus just saying it, hiring the right talent and knowing every single interaction point is critical to ensure the experiences are the absolute best that they can possibly be. And more important than just knowing, is acting upon the knowledge by customizing these experiences for them and developing deeper relationships. Real ones.

Here is a little snippet with Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos sharing his views and approach to providing truly customer centric experiences and building relationships.

Mapping to See If We Have What It Takes To Be Customer Worthy

Michael R Hoffman writes about the importance of mapping every possible combination of  interaction points in Customer Worthy. He also provides a matrix to help initiate this exercise, which is customizable for different organizations.

Michael goes through the interdependencies and significance of every interaction including those touch points impacted by decisions made throughout the organization as well with those outside.  He also addresses monetization, quality and costs of contacts along with identifying opportunities that could become more visible through this exercise. He states,

“Companies that cannot monitor customer worthiness or see contact flow data are continually surprised by revenue shortfalls, inventory outages, resource cost overruns, and diminished customer satisfaction. Traditional financial measures lag too far behind customer activities to be effective for timely business decision-making. Operations and quality metrics are too far removed from a customer’s interests, intent, and preferences. As a result, your company’s internal measurements can look fine. Quality and operations metrics can appear good to great. But customer and contact flow may expose disengaged and indifferent customers. The result is revenue decline and business erosion.”

 At first, this might seem more relevant for one side of the organization over another, but it's not. It is for everybody – from strategic planning, to feeding the creative process, marketing communications, operations, finance, manufacturing, etc. I have had the wonderful opportunity to engage in some absolutely incredible exchanges with the author who has had a breadth of experience over the years. Here are just a couple more quotes that I wanted to share from the book that speaks to everything above,

 “Most marketers understand the importance of thinking like a customer, but adopting the “Think Like a Customer” mindset probably requires a tremendous shift in many other parts of your company including management, operations, and finance. It’s a cultural shift, not a systems upgrade or replacement, not a firing and rebuilding. It’s a paradigm shift in mindset, developing an inquisitiveness focused on what we can do better for customers at each contact.”
 “…Customers are exposed to tens of thousands of messages every week. They are approached through 20 to 100 entertainment and news channels, smart appliances, radio, billboards, signage, newspapers, magazines, product placements in shows and movies, Bluetooth-connected everything, RFID, and on and on. Channels are exploding, and customers are stuck in the middle of a mash-up of messages, promises, and offers.” 

Peer-to-Peer Business Education and A New Culture of Learning

If we are deemed customer worthy today, how will we stay that way? Companies are faced with significant challenges working to remain agile and up to date in order to anticipate and respond to the shifts in consumer behavior and to innovate new ways to satisfy their rapidly changing desires. How can organizations learn, cultivate skill sets and impart that knowledge internally? In order to innovate, become even more customer-centric and competitive there is so much that needs to be done. 

Based on the rate of change that we are all experiencing, the business ecosystem (inside the organization and out) is increasingly becoming a world of teaching and learning environments at all levels. We can learn from the educational communities, which are going through some pretty significant shifts themselves. In A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown write about these changes, new methods for learning and adaptation. Here is a quote that really resonated with me as I soaked in its pages,

“…We find that the very things that are speeding up the rate of change in the world are also giving us those new tools. The trick is to figure out how to harness these new resources, which make play, questioning and imagination the bedrocks of our new culture of learning”

If you do nothing else but read “Sam’s Story" on pages 20-22 you will walk away with so much. But do read it in its entirety, trust me on this –  it will make such an impact.

Like I said to a good business friend of mine recently - It's like a great big puzzle and a creative business pallet just waiting to be painted upon. And as exciting as this is, what  comes with it are serious new risks in which we need to manage to ensure that we remain profitable. It's like the art and the function of architecture and the energy exchanged between the forces of creativity, beauty, pragmatism and functionality. This is like the story of the Golden Gate Bridge, how it was created and what continues to draw people to it today.

 “The challenge is to find a way to marry structure and freedom to create something altogether new” – John Seely Brown & Douglas Thomas in A New Culture of Learning

Many companies have what they need today to move forward and flourish. And for those who aren't already doing so, to expand the definition and practices from being customer centric to becoming customer worthy. I am not suggesting that we will have all the answers after reading four books. What I will say is that reading these will certainly provoke thought and encourage a dialog. And they can definitely influence action and inspire next steps.

I would love to hear your feedback.

Have a wonderful day,

- Lynda