thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

An Early Warning System

By on October 7, 2009

Being customer-centric will help you develop a great relationship with your customers. That closeness with your customers will result in richer and faster knowledge of changes that could impact your business. Customer-centricity, in other words, enables an early warning system.

Alan Webber, in Rules of Thumb, relates a story of the Republic of Ragusa from the 1300s to the early 1800s. With only 5,000 citizens it seemed virtually inevitable that it would be overtaken by one of the powerful empires that surrounded it—the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, and the Vatican. The Ragusans, however, maintained their freedom by turning knowledge into a competitive advantage. Their Senate regularly sent ambassadors to powerful countries capable of deciding the Republic’s fate. They found out about shipbuilding and military build-ups and this early form of networking helped the country understand the threats and opportunities facing it.

Wave_02Early warning systems have always been an advantage. Being customer-centered is the best way to position a business for that benefit. It will alert the organization of serious problems. It will provide strategists with “the luxury of time: time to anticipate, to think, to plan.”

Being customer-centric means that you, as an organization, go to your customers proactively, not that you wait for them to come to you. To operate effectively, you must operate outside the four walls of your business. Staying in tune with the latest information about customers and their needs means that you will not be taken by surprise.

In addition to the time benefit of early warning, consider the quality of the information that you gather, as well. It’s fashionable to say that we are all in the knowledge business, isn’t it? Well, if we are going to compete on knowledge, then it must be supported by the best knowledge that you can muster about your customers. This is far beyond a CRM system. It must be built by establishing a best-practice sharing culture. Great performances for customers cannot be stove-piped. Design a system in which customer knowledge is shared with everyone in such a way that individual customer-centered performances raise the bar for the entire company.

Webber says it best: “There’s no such thing as good news or bad news. There’s only fast news and slow news.” Fast knowledge happens within organizations that are connected and proactively communicating with their customers. Every organization should have an early warning system. The best one is built around closeness with your customers.


2 Responses to “An Early Warning System”

  1. Heidi Miller says:


    So true! I've often made the same case for social media monitoring, myself. Customer complaints, whether they be over the phone, in a customer satisfaction survey, on Twitter or in person, all tell us something about where our organization can take its next step in improving customer service.

    And there is the added benefit that when customers feel they are being listened to and cared for, they take more of a personal stake in your company's future as well. That's the difference between a "customer" and a "raving fan," right?

  2. Bill Self says:

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that customers want to be listened to and taken care of at the transactional level. Really successful organizations take this to a higher level by acting in a proactive way for the customer. My October 14th post explains this in more detail.

    The proactive, customer-centered approach amounts to an overhaul of traditional customer programs to design a operation that, rather than reacting, is continually looking to deliver added value. It should be highly creative, but with the interests of the customer in mind. As I like to say, "While you are creating (inside your organization), make sure that you are creating lots of loyal customers."

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