The Biggest Enemy of Customer Strategies 

By Lior Arussy

  • “By becoming a customer centric organization we will be more profitable.”

  • “We must focus on the customers.”

  • “The customer is the reason we are all here.”

  • “We must remember who pays the bills.”

  • “We need to strive to delight customers, not just to satisfy them.”

  • “The customer experience is the way to differentiate ourselves in the future.”

  • “Everyone in our organization owns the customers.”

  • “The customer is job number 1.”

  • “Do whatever it takes to satisfy our customers.”

  • “The customers drive our business”.

  • “Customer relationships are the cornerstone of our existence.”

These statements sound amazingly supportive. I am confident you have heard them more than once. Either using those exact words or in some variation thereof, the statements were repeated by your CEO or senior executives in company wide memos or during strategy meetings. These messages appear in various media to support the commitment to customer relationships / experience / strategy / all of the above. So why is it not happening? It seems as if everyone, all the way up to the executive suites, actually agrees that we must focus on the customers. It seems as if everyone is finally on the same page that we must get better when it comes to customer relationships.

It sounds promising. It seems as if no one disputes this strategic direction of focusing on the customers. It seems as if it is the one strategy every executive and employee will be in complete agreement. Finally, an agenda that everyone can agree on and rally around. So why is it not happening? Why is it that despite all the definitive commitments announced at every possible opportunity, your organization does not seem to make serious progress on the matter? Why is it that 12 months later, very few employees will agree that we became a customer centric organization? Why is it that customer turnover was not reduced and maybe even got higher? Why is it that price pressure still rules your business? Why is it that we do not manage to capture a larger portion of budget from customers? Where did we go wrong from the lofty commitments we declared? Welcome to the biggest enemy of customer strategies; “we are already doing it”.

Unlike other strategies that are often controversial and face conflicting opinions, focusing on the customer seem to be a consensus. It is very difficult to argue against a customer centric strategy and every function in the organization seems to be in complete agreement as to its importance. The challenge with customer centricity is not the principle agreement with its importance. The challenge is in the execution. In short, every function in the organization is in full agreement because they are convinced that they are already executing it.

The biggest obstacle to delivering customer strategies is the simple conviction that ”we are already doing it”. This strong belief among executives that their employees are already fully engaged in customer centric activities blinds them too the need to face the truth. The resistance to changing and transforming the business to become customer centric is simply a result of the conviction that “we are already there” and the required changes are incremental and not an order of magnitude. “All we need is a new loyalty program or a more customer intimate brochure” is the prevailing interpretation of what needs to be done to become truly customer centric. The executives believe that from a structure standpoint, their organization is already customer centric, even though in reality they are very much product centric.     Executives believe that they have already made the organizational changes to support a customer centric strategy, such as adapting the compensation plan, even though in reality they are very much efficiency and cost reduction centric. It is precisely this conviction that blinds executives and organizations from the complete transformation required to become customer centric. It is precisely the lack of admission that the organization is more process and efficiency centric than customer centric that will strip it from the opportunities to grow the business through better customer relationships.   The biggest enemy of customer strategies is not the lack of funds or resources. It is not the lack of ability or expertise. It is the lack of admitting what the current reality is.

This denial is so pervasive in organizations that it is difficult to detect. I used to appreciate organizations that approached us for help with a clear, fully articulated explanation of their customer strategy problems.   It took me time to realize how superficial their understanding was and how severely they were in denial. Whenever I meet with a new client who rushes to agree that they need to improve their customer relationships, I confront them with the reality first. They are often seeking a quick panacea, a pill they can swallow and make the whole problem go a way. They want to quickly check off this item off their “to do” list. It is very tempting to agree with them and take their business. But without full recognition of what is at stake and how far they are from a truly customer centric organization, it would be a serious mistake and a recipe for disaster.

Surrounded by T-shirts and inspirational posters all claiming commitment to customers, it is easy to fall into the denial trap. The “we are already doing it” attitude must be confronted head on before any strategy is devised. Organizations must fully understand what the difference will be between their current way of doing business and interacting with customer in a customer centric way. Executives must fully understand what is wrong with the way they currently run their operation and what customer centricity is all about. Without this clear understanding of the gap between the current and the desired, the customer strategy will not be implemented to its fullest potential and will fail to deliver the desired results. Combating the denial should be the first call for action for any person who is entrusted with designing and implementing a customer strategy in their company. It is easy and quite tempting to fall into the trap of the quick agreement. Executives do not easily accept requirements for change and transformation. Like any other initiative, the magnitude of the transformation and the results are proportionately linked to the magnitude of efforts and debates. If it is easily agreed upon, it is not a transformational strategy, but rather an acceptance of a small incremental project. In order to achieve a truly differentiating customer strategy that will result in growth and profitable loyalty, organizations must overcome their own biggest enemy, their denial of the truth.

Read other articles and learn more about Lior Arussy.

For permission to reprint or reuse this article, please contact Lior at lior@strativitygroup.com.

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