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Decide, Don’t Slide When Creating a Customer-Centric Business

by Guest Blogger, RJ Owen
November 20, 2012

About six months ago I attended a relationship workshop with 20 or so other couples. My wife and I went hoping to learn some things about how to better relate with, understand, and better serve each other. The thing that most stuck with me was the phrase “Decide, Don’t Slide.” The presenter used this phrase to help teach us that everything in a relationship happens for a reason, and that specific outcomes must be encouraged by specific plans. You can’t just sit back and wonder why your partner doesn’t make you happy.

Forrester Research Outside InRecently this phrase came back to mind while reading “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” by Forrester Research Analysts Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, Drawing from their extensive experience at Forrester, Bodine and Manning present a roadmap for building a customer-centric business that many user experience (UX) professionals will find familiar: define a strategy, gather customer insight, design products and services that meet customer needs, measure the response, refine the solution. Wash, rinse, repeat. This process has been espoused for a while now in the business world, but many brands have failed to adopt it.

The book made me made me realize how similar relating to customers can be to relating to our loved ones. Like married couples who read a few books, decide to implement a monthly date night, and then sit back and hope for a better relationship, many brands are only interested in customer centricity at a surface level. They announce a few brand attributes through an email blast and hope customers will take notice. They come up with a strategy during a management meeting, but quickly revert to what they’re most comfortable with when back in the office. They tout their devotion to customers, but still only manage against the bottom line. These are brands who say they want to be customer-centric businesses, but continually allow themselves to slide back into inward-facing ways of doing business.

Just like a successful relationship, in Outside In the authors reveal that success depends on the organization’s level of decision and commitment. The decisions happen on multiple levels:

  • Deciding core brand attributes and communicating them across the organization.
  • Deciding on a strategy that aligns every business unit with the brand attributes.
  • Commitment to customer insight work, to find the best way to implement the strategy, and design to build a solution based on that insight.
  • Deciding to refine the strategy with measurement and governance.
  • Committing to their brand values at the deepest level of the company culture, so that every employee is a part of it and the company looks different because of it.

One of the best examples of commitment featured in the book is Boeing’s decision to better engage their customers as part of the MyBoeingFleet.com redesign project. Boeing notes that their traditional approach to research – interviewing sales staff and customers at conferences – felt too light, so they engaged with EffectiveUI to do an ethnographic study across ten different cities on four continents. The commitment to customer centricity wasn’t cheap, but has resulted in a huge shift at Boeing that will pay dividends for years to come. Rather than continuing the slide in what they knew, Boeing decided to engage their customers and make something better than status quo.

Decision and commitment aren’t difficult on paper, but they do require real change to implement – change that is uncomfortable and daunting for many organizations, especially mature ones. Yet it’s this change that is required for a brand to survive in a culture of customer centricity and a world where a young, hot startup with nothing to lose can easily distract their customers. Brands who have made these decisions and have committed to following them to the deepest level of their organization find the customer loyalty and satisfaction that comes from being a customer-centric business. The rest are sliding toward a state of apathy at best, or more likely toward an unhappy breakup with their customer base.

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