I recently read an intriguing post on Debbie Laskey’s Blog, entitled “Does Your Business Have a Chief Customer Officer?”. In her blog, Debbie discusses and reflects on a US department store’s decision to appoint a specific executive role focussing purely on customer centricity. This is an interesting development and an example of how some companies are championing the customer from the very top. It seems that the Chief Customer Officer is an emerging role that is growing in recognition, and if this enhances the representation of the end-customer within an organisation, it can only be a positive thing. Yet it is only part of the solution.
Whether or not a Chief Customer Officer is appointed, many organisations claim to put the customer at the centre of everything they do. Yet as a consumer dealing with these companies, the reality can feel quite different. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences with firms that have left us feeling less than satisfied, yet those very firms may well claim in their glossy corporate brochures that customer satisfaction is their number one priority.
How can this disconnect occur? How can a large or mid-size organisation evangelise about its customer centric ethos, yet deliver something decidedly different on-the ground? And what does this mean for businesses, business analysts and projects?
An uncomfortable truth: It’s always about the customer but never just about the customer
It might sound counterintuitive, but however much a firm genuinely wants to pursue a customer-centric ethos, the reality is that it will need to balance the needs, constraints and desires of a number of stakeholders, including customers, employees, regulators, owners, shareholders and so on. The key to real customer centricity is finding a sensible balance that meets the needs of everyone involved. It can be hard to find this balance, and organisations that over-focus on any one aspect are likely to experience problems. Smart organisations may choose to push the boundaries to satisfy stakeholders in new or different ways. Good business analysts help organisations to make this strategic balance in new ways.
What this means for organisations, processes and projects
Whether or not an organisation has a Chief Customer Officer, it’s crucial that someone — at each level of the organisation — is responsible for championing the ‘voice of the customer’. This needs to be considered in just about every aspect of the organisation at just about every time. Of course, when you have a large and dispersed customer base, it’s rarely possible, feasible or desirable to have an actual customer to refer to on a whim. Instead, someone should be responsible for assessing and ‘owning’ the voice of the customer on projects, when processes change and when strategies change. A call centre supervisor might act as ‘voice of the customer’ on a project. A front-line worker might assume the responsibility on a smaller continuous improvement initiative. They might need to refer to previous research, reach out to customers to get a view or even engage with a focus group. They might need access to analytics and insight on customer trends. They’ll know the customer segments and the real-life problems and desires that customers have.
When considering changes, great questions to ask can include “Who is the customer here?”, What would our customers say about what we’re about to do?” and “Does what we’re about to do mean we’re appealing to new (or different) customers?” These are simple questions that sometimes have extremely far reaching implications, and it is well worth asking them often during change projects. In mid-size and large organisations, it’s easy for the real customer to get lost in the paperwork. In a plethora of product and system specifications, nobody asks “who is this product designed for?” Smart organisations avoid this.
It’s certainly true that customer centricity needs exec-level sponsorship. I’ve no doubt that a dedicated Chief Customer Officer adds focus. However, the voice of the customer needs to be represented at every level of the organisation, and we should shout (loudly) when we see it is absent.
I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting. What are your views on customer centricity, and how do you ensure the “voice of the customer” is represented in your organisation and on your projects? I’d love to hear from you, please add a comment below, and if you like my blog, please subscribe.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions