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Customer centric businesses need to be able to iterate. Quickly

I’m seeing the concept of “customer centric” business in more of my work. Focusing on your customer’s experience is obviously a good thing.

But…

I was chatting to a friend whose business is trying to become more customer centric. My friend is the lead for this project, and he’s encountering all the classic challenges – the data they have is in silos, different departments have a different interpretation of “customer centric” behaviour, and short-term sales targets don’t always support long-term customer focus. But his biggest frustration is the lack of velocity. His team is focused on a culture change – focusing the entire business on the customer requires a shift in perspective from the entire organisation. But they also need to deliver tangible change – new business processes, an update to the web platform (that’s how we got chatting), new reports for senior management etc. And this is where he’s stuck – his IT department has a 3 year planning horizon, and is currently scheduling new projects for a start in 2 years. This encourages every project to be huge – if you have to wait years to get your software, you want to make sure you get everything you might possibly need!

This, in turn, has made my friend very nervous about his project – if you get one attempt to change the business process (through a software project), you have to get everything right first time round. So, he’s investing in lots of research, and prototyping, and customer interviews, and KPI development. He sees this as a make-or-break event in his career, and he’s making sure he’s thought of everything before finalizing the software specification; he’s currently expecting the first release in around 3 years.

And that is a problem.

In 3 years, customers will have moved on. Our expectations are no longer shaped by TV, or how we’re treated in a chain restaurant, or the supermarket. Customer expectations are increasingly shaped by web-native experiences. Even though they may be ethically challenged, Amazon, AirBnB and Uber create expectations of  instant, seamless gratification (at a low price). It’s unlikely those experiences will remain frozen for the next 3 years – so designing a process based on today’s expectations is likely to lead to be outdated. And of course, we have no way of knowing what new things may emerge in the meantime – it took many large companies 3 to 5 years to make their websites work on mobile devices.

So, if you want to be “customer centric”, you need to accept that customer expectations are evolving faster than ever – and you need to be able to keep up.

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