Being customer-centric is hardly enough these days. To truly be successful, you need to nurture a customer obsession culture within your organization.
Customer obsession begins with humility. The opposite of customer obsession is organization obsession, ego obsession, bureaucracy obsession. Customer obsession is about genuinely putting the customer first. That is the most extraordinarily difficult thing to do for a great many organizations, whether they be government or commercial.
The natural order for organizations everywhere is to focus on their own needs, and that very often translates into focusing on the needs of its senior managers. For example, the typical function of government is to make the party in power look good. The public servants must focus on the needs of the government ministers first. Getting government to actually focus on the needs of the public—to truly put the public first—is often extraordinarily difficult.
Humility involves constantly listening to and observing customers. It means making decisions based on evidence of customer behavior, not opinion or ego. Most importantly, it means measuring success based on customer success, not organization success. In a customer success culture, organization success flows from, and is dependent on, customer success.
Agility is the next characteristic of customer obsessed organizations. To truly understand and design for customers requires constant iteration and experiment. It is almost impossible to look inside the organization and understand the customer. To design for the customer you must design with the customer, and that requires flexible open minds. That’s the whole philosophy of minimum viable product, lean and agile design. It’s about design through use, evolution through use.
Customers are changing far faster than organizations. Organizations need to keep up. Most organizations have stiff joints. Many have arthritis, and quite a few are the walking dead. We need massive Pilates and Yoga initiatives to loosen organizations up. It is shocking, for example, how slow most organizations are to make basic changes to their websites or apps. Amazon makes changes on average every 12 seconds.
Simplicity for the customer is the final key characteristic of customer obsession. If you want to be obsessed with your customers, be obsessed with saving them time. It all boils down to time. For many customers, they will give up much of their privacy in order to achieve greater convenience.
Organizations are wonderful at saving time and money for themselves. Many organizational time-saving innovations (automated phone systems, localization, outsourcing) waste customer time in order to save time and money for the organization.
You could get away with such tactics before the Web, when the customer had much less choice and was much less empowered. In an age when customers are far more independent-minded, disloyal, and connected with other customers and competitors, it is those who obsess about saving customers time who will lead the digital race.