Can differentiating your business be as simple as focusing on people?

Business advice

When talking about how people (customers, suppliers and other stakeholders) interact with your business you want them to have the best possible experience. You may have heard a few different terms to describe this: “customer experience”, “user experience” and “design thinking”.

All of these essentially mean the same thing and that is, if you want your users to have the best possible experience you need to intentionally craft this and focus on people first.

A people-focused organisation, one that truly understands those inside and outside of it, wins.

Being people-focused means acting for those inside the organisation as well as for those who use your products and services.

It means finding a sustainable balance between what they want and need, and obtaining commercial objectives. The gap between those saying that they do this (by using terms like “we’re customer centered”) and those actually doing this (by truly integrating this approach into all organisational components and divisions) will only continue to grow.

The question now is if every organisation is focusing on people, what does differentiation look like? How do you stay (or become) relevant if your basic operating philosophy is more or less the same as your competitors? Where does the innovation come from? There are many answers to this question, too many to cover in this piece, but I can tell you what it doesn’t look like.

Here are two organisational behaviours that will not save you, that will contribute to market dilution and could even make your business stupid.

1. Superficially ‘embedding’ a customer experience team, process, principles or approach

Simply thinking about your customer doesn’t make you better. Slapping a customer focus around/onto the organisation (with new job titles for under qualified team members or saying “as a customer I would…”) isn’t innovative or new.

Telling staff to talk to customers and integrate their feedback without properly embedding customer insight processes into the organisation means being led by subjectivity that you can’t contextualise. This reminds me of the “but I showed it to my husband and he really didn’t like x, so we need to change it” rationale. This, of course, is not rational, it’s subjective and has nothing to do with the success of the product or service delivery. Simply inviting customer commentary without structure, objectives or process is dangerous and often worse than not inviting it at all.

2. Moving to omnichannel delivery for core customer feature delivery

Omnichannel means “every or all” and refers to a connected suite of touchpoints working together to deliver choice and fulfil customer tasks/needs. This notion isn’t new. Since the invention of mail and telephony, businesses have been interacting with customers through multiple channels. They were probably doing it better than we are collectively doing it now.

As channels emerged, businesses tacked on departments, teams and silos multiplied. These silos make delivering world class experiences hard for most businesses because they didn’t build sustainable and flexible operational, technical and marketing infrastructure or processes.

To customers, accessing core features anywhere and anytime is a given, a basic expectation. Businesses are seeing it as a challenge of great magnitude that will translate to delighted customers. However, in reality customers shrug their shoulders and say “of course I can get/do it anywhere/anytime that I want to”. Noone says “wow, I love Netflix/Spotify because it remembers where I was when I switch between my laptop and phone!”. That’s a basic expectation. There’s no delight there.

Being customer-focused and delivering through multiple channels is not differentiation. Differentiation, by definition, means doing something unique that others can’t or won’t replicate.

Being, not acting

I watched a West Wing episode recently, in which, Toby Ziegler, the President’s communication director is trying to get the President to reframe his electoral campaign, to be about something different. About something other than what his opponents have. He says:

You’re the President, you don’t have to act like it. You’re a good man, you don’t have to act like it … Make this election about smart, and not … Make it about engaged, and not. Qualified, and not.

Toby’s words rolled around my head for days. What if we could be, rather than act/say/tell? What if we really were customer focused, rather than acting like we are? What if we really did deliver choice and flexibility rather than attempting to do so?

Slack reframed organisational communication by making it about teams being less busy and more productive through a flexible and rapid communication framework. What it delivers isn’t new, but how it is delivered is. I want my business to be more effective, I want my teams for communicate better. In rolls Slack, a no brainer. I haven’t even looked at alternatives. That’s what changing the competitive conversation does.

Similarly, Blinkist reframed non-fiction by making it about rapid education for busy, interested people. The most valuable publications are condensed into 15-minute packages of audio or copy by talented editors. This is a real human need solved, and beautifully.

What if we differentiated ourselves by being smart versus not, by being incredibly useful and solving real human needs versus not? What if we were more valuable than not?

Could differentiation be defined by these principles? And ultimately how would that change the way your organisation operates?


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5 years ago

I like this a lot-actually demonstrating your values rather than merely proclaiming them is way more powerful!