Don’t just say you’re customer-centric. Define it.

An event I attended this past weekend reminded me how easy it is to misunderstand what it means to be “customer-centric”. In general I hate jargon, and in particular, I dislike the way “centricity” is bandied about without a thought to what the term means.

Not the dictionary definition, the ‘around here’ definition. I’ve worked on projects to try and help organisations figure it out, and the universal starting point is: “it means putting customers in the centre”. Congratulations. You’ve just restated the term using different words. That is not a definition.

An excellent place to start is to think about where your organisation currently sits with regards to the idea. Here’s a quick cheat sheet — see which one best describes you.:

  • I know I HAVE customers. Yay, you. You’ve poked your head up out of the weeds of your organisation and realised there are people out there who buy things from you;
  • I think ABOUT my customers. And you’re on the right track. Thinking about what the people who buy things from you might want and need is the “jump to the left” you need; or
  • I think LIKE my customers. Give yourself a star. You’ve arrived at the promised land and are now happily channelling your customer’s inner-most desires.

Note the “buy” isn’t literal. A customer can be anyone who gets a product or service from you in exchange for something. So yes, that includes businesses, not-for-profits, government agencies, social services — the list is all-encompassing.

Okay, so you’ve figured out where you sit today. If you’re already at “like”, I’d love to hear what your definition is. But for the other 95% of you, to join your friends in the 5%, you’ll need to figure out a way to describe what the whole idea of “customer-centric” means so the people in your organisation can act on it.

And here is where the whole thing often goes awry. Absent of any concrete definition, the default will be to either just restate the phrase as I described above and or keep doing what I’ve been doing and just say I’m customer-centric.

In a project I worked on the term “customer centricity” was defined using a question that people could ask themselves in their day-to-day tasks. It usefully embedded the whole idea into what they were doing and encouraged them to rethink like the customer.

But it doesn’t have to be a question. It could be a statement. Three words. A limerick. A riddle. Ignore people who suggest it has to take a specific form. Whatever works for your organisation and your culture is okay. Just please do it. Your employees will thank you. Your customers will thank you. Your brand result will thank you.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Don’t waste time saying you can be trusted, be trustworthy


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