Customer centricity: nature or nurture?

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In the dialog with companies nowadays, you will be hard pushed to find a company that isn’t talking about ‘customer centricity’. Sentences such as ‘we need to be more customer centric’ and ‘we need to focus more on the customer’ regularly pass by. So what is customer centricity (see this table that compares product-, customer- and human centricity)? And to what extent is customer centricity producible or not? I have included customer centricity in my research, and have come to the conclusion that it is not producible. At least not in the way many companies are trying to do so.

Customer centricity is slowly but surely becoming a container concept, much like CRM. Everyone is doing it, but when questioned in more detail, nobody can really give a clear answer on what they understand by customer centricity and how their organization can be rendered more customer centric. In much the same way as ‘doing CRM’ apparently simply requires the implementation of a CRM package, many companies make do with a number of quick wins, such as trying to offer customers more first time fixes.

Organizational change

True customer centricity, on the other hand, requires significant change throughout the organization. A change of tack from often being product centric, to become customer centric. What you now often see is that attempts are made to design custom eccentricity at the front of the organization (first time fixes for customers by the contact center, for example). The rest of the internal organization continues to be product centric, however. And so the desired customer centricity results can never be achieved.

Employees are not the problem

What still amazes me the most is that in 9 out of 10 companies who are applying programs to improve their customer centricity, part of the program (and even the core of the program) is aimed at the customer centricity of the employees. Employees are apparently not customer centric enough, and require training in order to deal with customers in a friendlier manner. While I’m willing to accept that this does apply to a small group of your employees (no more than 5 percent, I’ll wager), 95 percent of your employees wants nothing more than to be optimally customer centric and to help each customer to the best of their ability every time! The fact that they are often unable to do so has nothing to do with employee behavior. Instead, they are frustrated by the processes and procedures which are far from being customer centric, which the employee must make the most of, day in day out.

Intrinsic customer centricity

In my research, I included the customer centricity of employees in the employee satisfaction aspect of the research. Customer centricity is then defined as an intrinsic motivation to make customers happy. My questions elicited answers such as: ‘I enjoy caring for the customers’, ‘I like to be able to provide the promised service on time’, ‘Every customer’s problem is important to me’ and ‘It’s great to win trust by offering good service’. This is therefore a basic employee attitude. The research has proven a number of matters:

  1. The employees at the various customer service departments score extremely well for intrinsic customer centricity;
  2. Their degree of customer centricity influences their satisfaction, commitment and employee turnover
  3. Their degree of satisfaction does not impact their customer centricity

This means that intrinsic customer centricity cannot be learned. It says much more about your recruitment policy than about the degree to which you as an organization are customer centric. And it’s also logical that contact center employees score very well, as it would be a very frustrating career choice for anyone who is not intrinsically customer centric.
However, they are now often also frustrated. Because of their intrinsic customer centricity, it is extremely annoying to be confronted with the fact that they cannot serve customers optimally, day in day out, due to the lack of customer centricity of the organization.

Start with your customer processes

If you wish to render your organization truly customer centric, only start with the employees if you require their active involvement in identifying what currently often goes wrong and therefore what withholds them from helping all customers effectively. It is more effective to start by rendering your organization more customer centric (processes, steering of the end-to-end customer experience journey, learning from your customers’ signals, etc.). This is not a process to be ‘done in a day’, but is rather a path of continuous experimentation via (small-scale) pilots and further roll-out, as an effective road to actual, sustainable customer centricity. Intrinsic customer centricity is therefore not producible, but a customer centric organization certainly is!

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