thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

The Most Important Question

By on February 25, 2009

The most important question that every organization must answer is "Exactly how is the customer changing?" Adrian Slywotzky and David Morrison, in The Profit Zone: How Strategic Business Design Will Lead You to Tomorrow's Profits, challenged businesses: "To create a strategic and dynamic perspective on the customer, one must have a clear and compelling point of view on (that) one question."

The customer does not stand still. Your customers are not even the same as they were one or two years ago. Yet most organizations are in denial of this fact. They have their heads in the sand, so to speak, and continue to believe that the products and services they provided two years ago will continue to make them successful. It has been said that we cannot predict the future. However, if you are doing exactly what you did one year ago, your future will contain customers that are likely less satisfied and are at the initial stages of leaving you.

"Many organizations, blinded by their traditional way of doing business, fail to stay on top of their customers' key priorities. This type of situation presents great opportunities for newcomers to decipher what customer priorities are being ignored." (Slywotzky and Morrison). If you don't have good customer information you are, indeed, running blindly. Most organizations are using market research which is too removed from the customer, too quick, tries to measure everything, and, which, frankly, asks the wrong questions.

Future-oriented organizations are changing this approach to resemble highly effective detective work. Findings must be fact-based and customer-connected. Otherwise, these companies will never significantly improve the value that they provide. Strategic (customer-centric) thinking uses insights from well-designed research to proactively identify changes in customers' priorities. Knowing these changing priorities is, according to Slywotzky and Morrison, the "single most powerful management weapon."

A few years ago the customer didn't matter. It was a supplier's world. Now the customer is the focal point of the business universe. In the old order, most of the information we needed was inside the company. Now it's on the outside, with the customer and the competition.

The irony in this whole information quandary is that your have the ability to connect and understand your customers better than any of your competitors. Slywotzky and Morrison say it this way: "Incumbent companies have the advantage of easy access to the customer, but it is their most underutilized asset." That's right. Because of incumbency, you have the best access to your customers that is available, and yet, you operate in your own product-centric world, dealing with the issues that matter to you, not your customers.

Actively research and listen to your customers in order to define what is important to them going forward (not just how you are performing right now). Find out what customer priorities are being ignored. Then, attack these needs with a vengeance. Build the solutions (big and small) that your customers want and you will lock in your status with your customer at the same time. Design your business to be "the one that scores highest on the customer's most important priorities."

If you can deeply understand your "future-defining customers" (which are not necessarily the most sophisticated or the most technologically advanced) you will have the answers about the tomorrow's marketplace. Success today is predicated on designing your business around what you have learned from customers. Organizations that want to outperform are developing internal cultures that are learning how to think like a customer. Companies must reinvent to stay relevant and solve customer problems in order to move into new profit areas.

All of us know that change is omnipresent and that we must react to it. the lower left textbox into your web page. The Profit Zone said it best: "The first question from managers at customer-centric companies will not be about core competency, but about customer relevance. They will drive the company to do those things that customers need, want, and are willing to pay for." The organizations that can "decipher the secret code" of customers' changing priorities will be the ones who are the innovators that will own the future.

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3 Responses to “The Most Important Question”

  1. Mark Price says:

    One danger that could emerge from this strategy is to define your customers as one homogeneous group. Customers differ by behaviors, needs and attitudes.

    Where then to focus, given such complexity. The challenge is to balance the needs of current Best Customers (most loyal and high value) with the emerging needs of High Potential Customers.

    The only solution is a "mix and match" approach, that drives incremental revenue in the SHORT term (particularly important in this economy) while laying the building blocks for the future

  2. [...] week, in a post called “The Most Important Question” in the blog “thinking like a customer,” Bill Self addresses the key question [...]

  3. Bill Self says:

    Thank you for your observations. They make a lot of sense. I have made some additional comments on your website. In visiting your website, there were a number of references to customer-centricity, of course. We certainly share the belief about the importance of approaching the need to stay ahead of the competition by focusing on the customers’ needs. I am curious about what you think of my March 4th post.

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