Tagged: customer-centric

Sixty (iii)

He paused again. I think I mumbled something like ‘right, yes, I think I see what you’re saying’, if only to utter the sound one expects from the to and fro of conversation.

“And now I can answer your question.”

I had, to be honest, slightly lost sight of the question and I was thankful when Saket repeated it.

“Why do I relegate customer-centricity? To answer that, let’s first return to the definition of marketing: the process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships in order to capture value from customers in return.”

I indicated I was holding on to the thread.

“Let’s abstract that a little and see where it might take us. What if I said it like this? The process by which thingummies create value for wotsits and build strong relationships in order to capture value from wotsits in return.”

This time I gave Saket a look I’m sure wasn’t flattering.

“Seriously. Stick with me,” he said. “Let’s do some word substitutions. How does this sound? The process by which employees create value for companies and build strong relationships in order to capture value from companies in return.

“Or how about this? The process by which companies create value for investors and build strong relationships in order to capture value from investors in return.”

I half-smiled.

“In other words, every single individual, for each of her many roles in life, seeks to establish relationships to create value, of one sort or another. And perhaps the very definition of a sustainable relationship, and perhaps of society itself, is when such value creation is mutual.

“Today, as nascent as it is, VRM looks to equip individuals in their role as customer. A fork from it – government relationship management – is looking to help individuals in their role as citizen. Longer term, we’ll simply seek to equip and empower and liberate the individual across all her roles in life – customer, citizen, employee, vendor, supplier, investor, family member, friend, custodian of the planet, etc. You can’t call this a business domain or government domain – although business services will evolve to meet the need of course. This isn’t something I believe you can just label ‘social’ either. This is the human domain.

“Networks of these newly emancipated individuals join together more freely to create sustainable value, and they are motivated to stick together as long as that value creation is mutual and appears equitable and competitive, and so long as our values align too.

“Now allow me the license to describe Attenzi a little differently. Some participants in one particular network have chosen to brand the network Attenzi. Mutual, sustainable value is generated within this Attenzi network, within this system, and no one individual or category of individuals can do it without others playing their part – the right mix of others at the right time. It’s a natural law. It’s all in the mix. Ignore this, or indeed attempt to act otherwise, and you wither – particularly when facing off competition that does get it.

“That’s why I relegate customer-centricity.”

“Wow. Thanks Saket. Never a dull moment!”

I knew I was going to have to think about this some more. “So where can I sign up for some VRM?”

Sixty (i)

I drove back to the office to continue my conversation with Saket. He was already there debating with some of the guys about which movie sequels improved on the original, and I dragged him away with little interest in their conclusions. I wanted to brief him on my lunch with William, but more importantly I wanted to finish our discussion about customer-centricity.

“Now where were we?” he asked.

“You’d just said each stakeholder group can look like the number 1 priority at any given moment, and you left me hanging with ‘and here’s the funny thing’!”

“Ah yes, the funny thing.” Saket collected his thoughts. “Funny thing. Actually, do you know what, it’s not all that funny. It’s a bit of a shame really. An opportunity left sitting there largely untapped.”

“What?!” I asked, perhaps too impatiently.

“Customer-centricity is an organizational point of view, not a customer point of view. It’s actually the organization-centric-view-of-the-customer. Let me explain.

“Let’s picture the most customer-centric company we can imagine. It listens intently. It takes every opportunity to gather data and information about the precious customer. It’s available via any channel the customer might desire, at any time of day, any day of the year, and it records all those interactions diligently so it might learn. It makes no decision without first crunching it through its understanding of its customer.

“It works hard to understand what the customer values and the value that represents to its bottom line. It defines a customer segmentation strategy and tailors operations to deliver the greatest value to the best customers at least cost.”

“Great!” I said.

I don’t know how he did it exactly, but Saket managed to give me a look that said ‘I haven’t finished yet and besides have you forgotten that I’m about to challenge the status quo’. I returned a look that said ‘Oh yes, sorry about that, do continue.’ So he did.

“Too often this process boils the unique customer down into a consumer, a word that conveys some statistical description of a stereotypical dehumanized passive consumption unit – wildly inappropriate these days – but that’s not the company’s only problem.

Fifty eight (ii)

“Is the customer important? Most definitely. Without question. 100%. But here’s the rub. You know the 20th Century was as complex as the 21st, but we didn’t appreciate complexity back then, let alone start to think about navigating it. So we needed some practicable rules, and the customer-centricity rule sure was a good one to have. It stood in stark and valuable contrast to the prior inward looking nature of firms. It wasn’t stupid then, quite the opposite in fact, but times and circumstances change and I believe it’s starting to look that way now.

“Here’s another quote for your collection, from Peter Drucker. ‘The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.’”

“Exactly!” I cried.

Saket looked straight at me: “Exactly. Hmm. Well here’s what I think is the single most important element of that quote in today’s terms – walls. In those days an enterprise had walls. The enterprise today need not, figuratively speaking, and should not. And will not. You have a vision of social business. You’ve already explored the concept of Attenzi as a network, as not being defined by its payroll. You’ve already pictured Attenzi as a system with all kinds of people coming together in different forms at different times and influencing each other in different ways. Right?”

I nodded, but it still felt odd. I tried to explain why, as much to myself as Saket. “All kinds of people, yes. But all kinds of different groups of people. One group we call customers. Another group employees. Another suppliers, and another shareholders. They all bring something different to the party, sure, but we have to focus everything on articulating and serving the customers’ needs because that’s our only way to survive and thrive.”

Saket expanded my list: “And some people are the friends and family of employees, customers and suppliers. And some are local residents. And some chose to represent our planet and other species by proxy. And some benefit from the taxes we pay. And some pay taxes so we may benefit from the infrastructure around us. And some are customers of our customers, and suppliers to our suppliers. And so on. Attenzi is a system of systems, and a system within systems.

“As you’re familiar with the concept of customer-centricity, you’ll also know each customer is unique, right. And so I might add is everyone regardless of the role they may be playing, regardless of their fleeting or long-term interest and participation in Attenzi’s success.

“And what’s more, even though customer-centricity appears to reign, even though we say the customer is our top priority, most every occupant of the C-suite appreciates that great employees, critical suppliers and willing shareholders are number 1 priorities too!

“But wait for it, here’s the funny thing….”

My phone rang. It was Rachel reminding me I was due at the school gates five minutes ago. We both had a date with a tall glass of ice cream. I kicked myself.

Saket was polite enough to suggest we continue the following day – after all, this wasn’t in the diary and we wouldn’t want talk of customers to come between a father, a daughter and mint choc chip. There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Fifty eight (i)

It had been a quiet day. I found myself staring out the window thinking how much I missed Rachel and daydreaming about living right next door to Myra so we could still be more of a family. I tore myself away on seeing Saket approach.

“Is this a good time?”

“Sure, pull up a chair.”


I looked at him, waiting. He simply raised his eyebrows so I assumed he wanted me to pick a topic. So I did. “I have a question. Will all this stuff pay dividends? Will Lorenz Capital cash out? Actually, more to the point, how well does this bode for my long-term career prospects?!”

Saket adopted an appropriately serious posture. “Attenzi isn’t in the business of making money. It’s in the business of creating great products that celebrate great food and great cooking to the benefit of everyone involved. And when everyone derives value that includes Lorenz Capital. They can’t do it without you. You can’t do it without them. Everyone comes together to make this thing happen.

“So Lorenz Capital will cash out when you’ve helped everyone come together to create greater value all round faster than otherwise. And you’ll realize your full potential by helping everyone else achieve theirs.”

I guess I felt we were doing the right things, but even a Chief Executive needs some validation from trusted advisors. Make that especially the Chief Executive. We chatted for quite a while about what our performance metrics were starting to show – more on that later – and then Saket asked me if anything particular was making me nervous. I did have one itch I needed to scratch.

“Well, I can’t help but think about customer-centricity. You see, when I contemplate the stuff we’ve worked through together, I think I can start to see why you relegate customer-centricity. I think in fact you called it stupid.

“But then just as I think I’m getting it I pick up any management textbook, read any business magazine, talk to any peer at another firm, and there it is looming large. Maxims such as: ‘the customer is at the heart of everything we do’; ‘without customers there is no company’; ‘it’s the customer who pays the wages’; ‘there is only one boss – the customer.’ How do you reconcile that?”

Saket leaned forward. “I like a good pithy quote as much as the next man, but don’t confuse pithiness for accuracy.

Thirty (iii)

“There are flows of resources – which I generally think of as time, money and materials. That definition of marketing you referenced Michelle means that we work out what the market wants or might want, and what we can deliver, and then plan to exchange products and services for money. Reciprocal flows. For example, the product flows out and the money flows in. And we hope to keep that up.

“And that’s where another kind of flow comes in, to do with reputation Yvonne. After all, without a decent reputation we can’t hope to keep those sales up. I’m talking about influence flows. Influence goes around comes around.”

“Yes!” John got our attention. “Of course, data, information and knowledge flow. I meant to say that. And when they do so usefully, which we now think of as when someone changes what they’d have thought or done otherwise, that’s influence.”

“That’s really interesting,” said Michelle. “So some influence flows through my department, some through the separate discipline of public relations,” (I couldn’t work out whether the emphasis was sarcastic or respectful towards Yvonne but I had my suspicion) “and some through IT.”

“And…?” challenged Saket. Given the silence, he continued. “And there’s influence flowing in the actions of customer service, procurement, logistics, HR, sales. In fact, in everything. There’s influence in everything an organization does, and sometimes in what it does not do. Let me read you something.”

It was Saket’s turn to find something on his computer.

“Reputation management does not actually mean managing reputation, and brand management does not actually mean managing a brand. They mean actively attending to the business of influencing and being influenced such that the resultant beliefs or opinions held about us and our products are conducive to our achieving organizational objectives.”

“When you say it like that,” said Michelle, “it really puts the customer on a pedestal for sure.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘for sure’. That’s the only sure thing I do know. A Beautiful Mind, 2001.”

After a few seconds of adjusting to Saket’s movie speak, Michelle asked him to explain.

“Well, maybe this whole so-called ‘customer-centric’ way of thinking is an over simplification. The quote I just read out didn’t reference the customer. It didn’t put the customer ahead of employees past, present and future, or suppliers or partners or shareholders, past, present and future. Or the general public interest. Or the planet. All stakeholders matter, and to put one consistently ahead of all the others sounds increasingly stupid to me. It doesn’t appear to recognize the complexities of the world we live in.”

My conversation with Dom about complexity crashed back into my mind, and I had a feeling of clarity, even if I couldn’t actually articulate it. One thing I did know is that I’d had about as much mental stimulation as I could cope with on one call, and I directed the remainder of the call to planning the away day.


So, what was the disagreeable stuff I got from the Goorooz?

I won’t list it all, but here are two examples that typify an all too cavalier attitude.

The main Wikipedia entry for Attenzi isn’t the longest, or the shortest. It covers the firm’s history, change of ownership and key products. Amazingly, my appointment was recognized in the entry within a week of my taking up the job. I say amazingly, because Attenzi is hardly a big bank or retailer. Who are these Wikipedia editors?

It also documents a product recall in 2006 in factual terms. But because the facts are unflattering, this part of the entry is unflattering. Nevertheless, the Goorooz assured us this could be fixed. On my asking if they had both a time machine and the quality control abilities to rewrite history, they assured me that there was no need to have this part of our history documented at all. They just laughed gently when I pointed out that Wikipedia’s requirement that editors have a neutral point of view is actually one of its founding principles.

(Dom is a so-called Wikipedian with several hundred edits to his name, and he has conveyed his frustration on several occasions with edits by those without a neutral point of view, with a conflict of interest.)

And later the Goorooz walked us through a dozen or so slides describing ways we could find out as much as possible about customers and those who visit our website. Some of it was quite legitimate, like tracking the clicks each link in our newsletters accrues. We already did that. But some sounded like it bordered on the illegitimate, or at least the unethical, including ways to access our website visitors’ browsing history and ways to circumnavigate the way browsers treat cookies – the little bits of code we can quite legitimately leave behind to ascertain when the same person returns to our website for example. But in this instance, it was a way to reinstate the cookie as soon as the visitor decided they didn’t want our cookie on their computer any longer.

“Shouldn’t we ask their permission to do these sorts of thing?” I asked.

“It’s just the age we live in. It’s the consequence your customers pay for being digital. Everyone’s doing it.” Came the plainly uncomfortable response.

But how can we claim to be customer-centric while showing the customer such disrespect? I say this stuff is plainly uncomfortable, but apparently not for everyone.


Attenzi’s strategy was well articulated and well mapped, if lacking what a serious management consultant might call va va voom. The Balanced Scorecard was, in my opinion, well formed to guide organization-wide performance in executing the strategy. And generally most targets were mostly met most of the time. But let me be more exact.

The strategy was, as one would expect of any decent firm, customer-centric in character. The concept of customer-centricity emerged with the advent of integrated marketing communications during the mid-90s, replacing the traditionally inward looking nature of large firms. This new emphasis aimed to place the customer’s concerns and happiness slap bang at the centre of business decision-making.

So yes indeed, Attenzi sought customer insights to inform new product development. It pursued product design that would exceed the customer’s expectations for style, usability and durability. It trained sales staff to match the specific customer’s needs with specific product features. It maintained a CRM system and followed up proactively as best it could post-sale to ascertain customer happiness. It geared post-sales service to cause the customer minimal pain.

And so on.

And so forth.

I know that we’re nearly two decades through customer-centricity, and if you haven’t seen it lived universally, you will have at least heard it spouted universally.