thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Customer-Centric Accelerator

By on March 18, 2009

Particle AcceleratorBecoming customer-centric is transformational and it requires a change in culture as well as in process design. It demands a long-term commitment that involves everyone in your organization. However, there is one proven method to jump-start the process in a way that will accelerate the company-wide commitment to the journey.

The graphic with this article shows a stylized particle accelerator. These devices are used by physicists to give particles much higher energy than exists naturally on Earth, in order to understand the essence of their behaviors and subatomic structures. Because particle beams that are created with these accelerators have high speed and good directionality, they are much easier to study in detail. Isn't this exactly what you are trying to achieve in your organization as you perfect customer-centricity?

It can be intimidating to view the customer-centric identify as a destination, the result of a long journey. Instead, think of it as a workout. Yes, the benefits only happen if you stay committed to it, but you get healthier, stronger, and more fit every day. The Japanese word is kaisen, or step-by-step improvement to attain the culture change. Your organization's success is going to happen one project a time anyway, so demonstrate to all stakeholders how to take the first step.

Explore and learn how to think externally by improving one specific customer touch-point. It is what Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, refers to as "going deep rather than going wide." But don't just order it--participate in it. Experience it with your employees who are most passionate and customer-centric already. (It's OK to hand-pick the players.) Document the process in order to demonstrate the power of interdisciplinary teams focused on thinking like a customer--in designing a product or service for the benefit of the customer. Many examples exist (Whirlpool, KitchenAid, New Balance and others in books such as The Design of Things to Come) of project-based teams that delivered customer-focused improvements which created a mindset that spilled over and were copied by the rest of the organization.

Compare this copying phenomenon to the original scientific research by Lee Alan Dugatkin in The Imitation Factor. His brilliant approach explains how important the concept of imitation is in not only animal behavior but in our society in general. While the changes from evolution, notably described by Darwin, may take generations, Dugatkin keenly observes how imitation is a fundamental basis of learning in all of us. Imitation also happens much more quickly. "The actions of a few individuals, or even a single one, can dramatically shift the evolutionary future of a particular population fundamentally because individuals are keen copiers," he writes. This is basic to the "roots of cultural behavior." The culture of your organization, therefore, depends on the successes of a few individuals.

Use this imitation concept to foster change in your organization. Rather than drag your employees kicking and screaming into the new future, show them success through your participation in the process. It has been said that imitation is the most profound form of a compliment. Perhaps the opposite is also true--that you can cause imitation through your intentional modeling of what should happen and what you want to be imitated. It's the best kind of leadership--inspirational--because it defines the transformational change in the direction that you want all employees to follow.

Becoming customer-centric is the new mandate for organizational success. You can talk for months and years about this different way of thinking, but the shortest distance between today and your new focus on customers is to give your company an example of how to do it. Real change is what resonates. When your employees see your sincerity and customer-directed leadership, old traditions and mindsets will melt away. Your workout program will show everyone how you interpret customer focus and they will follow suit. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, isn't it?

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