Debunking The Customer Centricity Myths

You might have heard of these mantras about delivering great customer experience – but do they stand up to scrutiny?

Although we have been talking about putting the customer at the centre of a company for a very long time, many people still misunderstand what exactly it requires. Here are some of the biggest myths about customer centricity that need to be debunked!

1) Customer centricity is asking customers what they want

Henry Ford’s quote “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses” may be very old but it has stuck around for a reason. A lot of brands still make the mistake of thinking that being customer centric is foremost about talking to customers, listening to them and then executing their needs. 

But not all customer demands are realistic or even interesting for your other customers. It’s great that you organise customer communities, scan social media and investigate all the places where customers leave traces, but that is not the definition of customer centricity. 

It’s instead about finding ways of creating real value for most of your customers. Helping them save time on tedious tasks like grocery shopping is a good example, like Walmart did, with their giant vending machine-like Pickup Towers. It’s about making sure that you are easy to work with, like Uber. It’s about making customers feel great in any way possible, like Tony’s Chocolonely does – offering delicious chocolate as well as the assurance that no one was harmed during the making of it.

2) Putting the customer at the centre is expensive

Improving a customer centric experience can be done in affordable steps. It’s often better to change 10 small, but significant things per month and improve the experience by 120 times at the end of the year than to make one Big Bet that you can’t be certain will work. 

Putting the customer at the centre of your company also means going beyond implementing expensive Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, facial recognition or other high-end tech (which can be fantastic, of course, but not everyone can afford them). 

Take the example of Smartphoto – the photograph printing company – and its employee who came up with the idea of sending gifts to those customers who had photographed weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations. Her dream was to send a small present to everyone who had had their first child or got married. Management had concerns about privacy, so they asked her to test her idea first with a gift budget of just 500 euros per month for 3 months. The result turned out to be overwhelmingly positive. Nobody complained or found it awkward, instead, they all sent thank you messages back to Smartphoto. 

So, offering customers a great experience is definitely not always as expensive as you may think. Small acts can have a great impact. 


3) Everything needs to be perfect

Fast adaptation is everything when it comes to being customer centric. If the customer changes direction, then so should you. So if someone comes up with a great idea, don’t over-plan or over analyse until it’s 100% perfect. Launching something that will make 90% of your customers a lot happier is better than waiting too long and missing the boat. 

However, this also works the other way around: if 90% of your customers behave well and 10% do not, don’t make the 90% pay because of measures you take to keep the 10% bad guys in check. 

For example, German online fashion platform Zalando made the clear and bold decision not to adapt its return policy because of a few rogue customers that send back products damaged or later than the agreed date of return. 

4) Metrics never lie

Sometimes, companies measure the wrong things, or they use the wrong metrics. In these cases, numbers about customer centricity can lie. Let’s say that you adopt ‘delivering top quality sustainable products’ as a strategy and then tie a metric of ‘less than 5% returns’ to that. You might expect that your team would gather data about the weak spots of returned products and then deliver feedback to your engineers who could then improve the products, resulting in fewer returns. 

However, if your team is focusing only on the metric instead of the strategy, another scenario could be far more likely. Namely that your service team could decide to make the return policy and process so complex that the rate of returns plummets. This might be a ‘clever’ shortcut for your service team, but the result would be a lot of frustrated customers and a dangerous blindness to the weak spots in your products. 

It’s really important to measure relevant things, and above all to make sure that your metrics don’t end up sabotaging the strategy they are meant to support in the first place.

5) Putting customers first means employees come second

We’ve all read the complaints of Amazon warehouse workers who are afraid to go to the bathroom or take a sick day because of the company’s exacting productivity targets. And I’m certain that working for the very demanding customer genius Steve Jobs wasn’t always a walk in the park. But for the most part, employee centricity does go hand in hand with customer centricity. 

If you’ve got a team that understands your strategy, your vision, your goals and feels part of something special, then you will end up with high performing employees who are committed to pleasing the customer. This employee centricity can and does happen in different ways. Nordstrom, for instance, which excels at customer experience, incentivises its salespeople to help customers and ensure they are served well across every interaction

But it’s not always about monetary incentives. At NetApp, for instance, Vice Chairman Tom Mendoza regularly calls select employees to recognise them for doing their job just ‘right’. 

Ultimately a success customer centric strategy is simple: happy employees create happy customers while employees who are tired, overstressed and unhappy do not. Understanding the myths outlined above can help create the working environment that will satisfy both employees and customers.

For more insights from our expert guest contributors, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.