The customer centric universe

The Web has helped usher in a shift from an organization-centric universe to a customer-centric one. That’s the single biggest lesson I have learned in more than 20 years of consulting and writing about the Web.

Back around 1999, I came up with a title for a talk I was planning. I decided I’d call it “Customer Centric.” Since then, the vast majority of my talks and writings have used that title or a variation of it.

Today, I believe more strongly than ever that we have entered a customer-centric universe, that the revolution involves a shift in power from organizations (religious, government, commercial) to customers, people, communities. With every revolution, we find a counter-revolution. Today, the old forces of power are fighting back fiercely. While they have little positive to offer for our present and future, these negative and reactionary forces have the capacity to do huge damage.

In the organization-centric universe, the organization was at the center, and at the center of the organization was the Great Leader. The planets that circled around the organization were Ego, Control and Complexity. The atmosphere that was created by the combination of these planets was one of faith and blind trust.

The organization seemed to make sense of the chaos and the unpredictability of life. The organization gave us answers. Its leaders seemed to know what the future held. These organizations were complex and mysterious. Information was very tightly controlled. We were not supposed to understand or to question. In fact, many didn’t want to know. It was much easier just to believe in the leader or in the brand. We were given a role and we were told that if we dutifully played that role we would be rewarded and looked after.

That universe is crumbling. Great leaders still spout certainties, and even though facts pile up showing that, at best, they’re guessing, and very often they’re lying, many still want to believe in the old certainties.

The customer universe is not a comfortable universe. It’s not a predictable one. There are no certainties. The planets that circle the customer are Empathy, Flexibility and Simplicity. The customer at the center is very demanding. We who serve the customer must have great empathy for them. We must be constantly thinking about their world, not our world.

Digital is not fixed. Digital is not solid. Digital is not certain. Digital is not secure. Digital is fast, fluid and unpredictable. Digital has freed up all the information and all the tools of organization and made them available to everyone. Flexibility is key to survival. Planning for the future gives way to adapting to the ever-changing present.

In the old organization-centric universe, things were often deliberately made complex for the customer, as this was a form of control. In the customer universe, blind trust and faith has evaporated. Customers now trust in use. They judge based on whether their friends have used it and how easy it is for them to use. They instantly withdraw from that which is complex, mistrusting and avoiding it if at all possible.

The customer is no longer king. They are dictator. And they’re number one dictat is: Make it easy.