thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Change We Can Believe In

By on July 22, 2009

I love it when people shake up the way we think. That is what we need in order to stay competitive in today's business environment. A growing number of new thought leaders are helping us to understand that the best approach to bringing about positive change is to structure our actions around being customer-centered.

Pip Coburn, in The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash and Burn, describes the dilemma of innovations that changed technology and lowered costs (reinforcing Moore's Law) but which caused organizations to become so self-absorbed that they ignored what customers wanted or needed. This leads to all kinds of distrust among customers. The fail in many supplier-centric changes amounts to technology solutions looking for a problem. The opposite should be the model in your organization.

The reason many people hate change is that it is foisted on them. They didn't ask for it. It does not make their lives easier. If it doesn't help the customer, then it will only provoke discomfort. Innovation (in products or services) is not a company's primary activity. I understand that we have businesses to run and that changing anything can get in the way. However, what if we view change as an opportunity rather than an interference with ‘business as usual'? What if we develop a culture around the customer that aggressively asks how we can make this better for the customer? The payback can be enormous.

David Plouffe, the guru of President Obama's 2008 campaign strategy, described the connection with American voters as "Meet them where they live." In building his grass roots infrastructure, he "ensured that volunteers were as close to the campaign as the campaign management." This successful model was built on not only better information and better process, but insight: insight into what customers (voters) need to make it easier for them to engage with your organization, whether it means buying your services or participating in your campaign. What will customer-centered change bring you? Trust from your customers—and that should be the primary goal for every organization.

There is a renaissance happening that is shifting organizations to thinking like a customer. In between the research/engineering function and the marketing experts these organizations are filling the gap with independent thinkers that have the ability to design solutions viewed through the lens of the customers.

What makes change "sticky"? Customers embrace innovations that make their lives and tasks in their lives easier. Customers don't want supplier-centric ideas pushed onto them. They want their user experiences to become better and better. That's where your change initiatives must be focused.

Photo by Greg Melia http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregmelia/2277690112/

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2 Responses to “Change We Can Believe In”

  1. Mark Price says:

    Bill -- Good insight about companies and change. I agree completely that change to improve operational efficiencies can become an obsession and distract from the critical need to deliver on customer experience.

    Change is hard, even when that change is customer-centric. In my experience, even the right change will be fought by a share of the employees (and customers too) who are invested in the old way of doing things. People just don't like to change.

    What we have found successful is (1) make sure you have the RIGHT change in mind (as you mentioned, a change that improves customer experience and (2) start small, with change delivered to "early adopter" employees who are always interested in the new thing. Then, take the success from the pilot and market the heck out of it, to the rest of the organization. You can build a groundswell that way which will ease adoption.

    For consumers, the same thing applies. The early adopter consumers will try it first and the rest will wait until they know that the product or service is ready (thank you, Geoffrey Moore). When you can let the early adopters tell the rest of the consumer base that your enhancement is ready, then you will be good to go.

    In change, Big Bang has failed every time I have seen it tried. Take the hill one step at a time and you increase the chances of success dramatically

  2. Bill Self says:

    Mark,
    Thanks for your follow-up comment. So many times leaders impose change on their organization that is selfishly focused on lowering costs/raising efficiencies inside their business. Why not direct the change outward toward customers? Employees can understand that role much better. If your culture is built on retaining and helping customers, then changes grounded in benefits to customers will only encourage more ideas to spring forward in the same vein.

    You are so correct about the incremental change and marketing the success out of early pilot projects. Most people don’t want to be the first to try a new process, but they are happy to be the second or third to try it if the first was successful. That’s how you build the “groundswell” as you mentioned. This is a lot easier (straightforward) when the improvements are “in the name of” the customer rather than isolated inside the organization.

    The momentum from this groundswell is enough to change the culture of companies from staid and traditional to fresh, creative and mindful of how innovation can cement loyalty to your brand. When customers see that you are thinking on their behalf, they grow more and more loyal.

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