thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

I Know All the Right Answers

By on August 19, 2009

Much of our client work involves assisting leaders in developing their organizations to become more customer-centered. But what if the leaders don't get it? What if they think they know all the right answers about customers already?

A phrase that you hear a lot these days is "They don't know what they don't know". I recently met with an engaged passionate group of employees for a large organization to discuss customer satisfaction. The problem, however, was that management would not support them. The employees embraced a customer focus, but the leaders did not. Rather than acknowledging that customers have their own vantage point and embracing that position as an opportunity, they were in denial and chose to ignore anything except their internal processes. When it came to customers, the arrogance of these leaders made them tone deaf.

The difficulty for most leaders is the failure to accept what the future will look like until it happens. Thomas Koulopoulos, in The Innovation Zone: How Great Companies Re-Innovate for Amazing Success, correctly observes, "If any theme is consistent throughout human history, it is this silly notion that we have finally figured it out. This arrogant belief limits our abilities to innovate beyond our current circumstances." Instead, as he points out, our approach should be that we are always in the middle of the story and new chapters will make obsolete what has already been written.

If, in the 1990's, you had forecast that every hotel room would have an ironing board and high-speed Internet connections, not everyone could have accepted that reality. Now, however, Jane Durment, CIO at The Markus Corporation, quoted in Koulopoulos' book, "foresees a day in the near future when you will open your hotel room door to find the room completely personalized...with everything from your accommodations to your favorite TV channels and even the temperature of your water in your shower may all be set up based on your preferences." I don't doubt that these changes will happen in the future. Success depends not on basking in the glory of the good services that you have already provided your customers, but in actively pursuing the new opportunities that will please these customers even more.

Becoming customer-centered starts with the deep-rooted belief that your performance for customers can always get better. Companies, then, can begin elevating customer focus a little at a time. Organizations have to be curious in looking for opportunities. If you believe that better deliverables will happen some day, make small steps in that direction. It does not have to happen overnight. If the ideas are truly customer-centric, show the leaders who will try to reject your ideas because they are different from the status quo. Point out how the customer wants to have it. The momentum will start there.

Often times, our leaders behave like the urban legend of Charles Duell, commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, who, in 1899, said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." When it comes to customers, no one knows all the answers. Being customer-centered requires information gathering and a lens toward the future that matches what your customers are thinking. It also requires a lack of arrogance that you know all the answers already.

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