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Customer Centricity: Buzzwords or Strategic Intent!

The theory of customer centricity or customer centric organization was born in 1954 when Peter Drucker in his classic “The Practice of Management” said “it is the customer who determines what the business is, what it produces and whether it will prosper”.

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Customer Centricity: Buzzwords or Strategic Intent!​

Author: Ravi Tharoor, Chief Strategy & Commercial Officer

The theory of customer centricity or customer centric organization was born in 1954 when Peter Drucker in his classic “The Practice of Management” said “it is the customer who determines what the business is, what it produces and whether it will prosper”. Though a focus on customer was a central theme of retail businesses since beginning of 20th century when Harry Gordon Selfridge proclaimed “customer is always right”, it was during the 1990’s that the concept of customer centricity began to develop as a component of market orientation.
Since then Academics, Management Consultants, CRM Sales Gurus and others have written and prescribed plethora of ways and means to be customer centric. But as my title queries – are they merely buzzwords or can an organization or a small business or even a single business operator/owner truly care about its customers and put them at the very center of their focus as the term “customer centric” suggests?
I submit that they can, if they treat customer centricity as a strategic intent and not just a marketing phraseology. Gary Hamel and C.K.Prahlad in their brilliant article defined strategic intent as an obsession to win at all levels of an organization and sustain it over a long period of time to achieve global leadership. I am borrowing from them to convey something far simpler as in making customers happy and keeping them happy.
In my business experience spanning several continents and industry segments, three principles have helped consistently in attracting, retaining and maintaining happy customers:
Be genuine: Don’t let the salesman or saleswoman in you oversell yourself or the product/service. Humbleness and humility are the key to winning over the person on the other side of the table regardless of the type of product or service you are pitching. Listen (don’t forget to take notes!) a lot more so you understand your customer and their business and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you really don’t know! As Ozan Varol explains in his book “How to think like a Rocket Scientist” – when we utter the three dreaded words “I don’t know” – our ego deflates, our mind opens and our ears perk up!
Be truthful: Do not lie to your customers or prevaricate! You may embellish but not to the extent of being proven completely untrustworthy. State the correct facts and do not be afraid to discuss failures with other customers but at the same time point out what you or the organization has learnt from the failures which would help not repeat the same mistakes and make improvements in your product or service. There will always be unhappy customers but as Bill Gates said “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”.
Be caring: Caring is not exclusive to Hospitality or Healthcare! You must show and practice a great degree of care to your customers by being concerned about their business, the impact of your service levels or your products in their success. Do not be superficial and always incorporate a personal angle by enquiring about their families, understanding their hobbies and interests, read up on their culture, pick up some basic sentences from their language, try their cuisine etc. This will create a conversational topic and a connect that will help you build a lasting relationship beyond the business scope.
Peter Kaufman in his famous speech on Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking, highlighted several nuggets of wisdom that reinforces my principles but, undoubtedly, more eloquently. I take away three and I quote them below:
  • Keep it simple: So, if you think about things beings complex as being sophisticated like most people do, you think the more complex it is, the more sophisticated it is. Albert Einstein once listed what he said were the five ascending levels of cognitive prowess. Everyone wants to be level one. Right? No one wants to be at level 5! Wait until you hear what these levels are, it’s going to be a revelation! So number five he said, at the very bottom, was smart. The next level up, level four, is intelligent. Level three, next up, is brilliant. Next level up, level two, he said is genius. What? What’s higher than genius? He must have that backward. No, he doesn’t. Wait until you hear what number one is according to Albert Einstein. Number one is simple. Simple transcends genius!
  • Be the List: Our entire lives we are on a quest, an odyssey, a search for an individual or business partners you can 100% absolutely and completely trust. But who is not just trustworthy, but principled and courageous, and competent, and kind, and loyal, and understanding, and forgiving and unselfish. Everyone has this list in their heads and every single one of your interactions with others, be the list! You do this with the other human beings you encounter in life. They are all going all in, and not because it’s your idea. Most people spend all day long trying to get other people to like them. They do it wrong. You do this list, you won’t be able to keep the people away. Everybody’s going to want to attach to you. Because you are what they have been looking for their whole lives! Kaufman refers to this as a twenty-two-second course in leadership. No need for B Schools, or books or motivational speakers!
  • Mirrored Reciprocity: Kaufman’s Elevator example is brilliant for its simplicity! You are standing in front of an elevator. The doors open. And inside the elevator is one solitary stranger who you have never met before in your whole life. You walk into the elevator; you have three choices for how you are going to behave as your walk into this elevator. Choice number one: you can smile and greet this person. 98% of the time the person will smile (or may be not) and greet you back. You can test it. Choice number two: you can walk in and you can scowl and hiss at this stranger in the elevator. And 98% of the time, they may not hiss back at you, but they will scowl back at you. And option number three. This is where the wisdom comes. You can walk into the elevator and do nothing. And what do you get 98% of the time? Nothing. It’s mirrored reciprocation. You want to go positive; you want to go first. There is a big obstacle though! Daniel Kahneman, the Noble Prize winner in Economics (more specifically Behavioral Economics) explains this as a huge asymmetry between standard human desire for gain and standard human desire to avoid loss. Why do people not go positive and go first when there is a 98% chance that one is going to benefit from it and only a 2% chance that one is going to fail or feel horrible or lose face, and all the rest of that? That’s why we don’t do it – the thought of the 2% negative!

At Jeebly, our endeavor has been to nurture and sustain relationships and have experienced a great degree of success, judging by the WOM references we get. There have been failures but not because of how we have managed the association. The pandemic has surely made relationship building more complex since virtual meetings do not give the same connectivity opportunity that physical meetings do but we try! As more businesses return to normalcy, we are carefully accelerating the physical meet option to build on the foundations we have laid.