The problem word in “customer-centric” is …

Today I want to talk about customer-centric. Or passenger-centric, member-centric, patient-centric, partner-centric or any of the other centrics bandied about. Because everywhere you look organisations are jumping on the bandwagon.

Which wouldn’t be a problem if they also took the time to make sure people understood what the hell they were talking about. But they don’t. And switching “customer” for a different word doesn’t make it any easier. The problem word is “centric”.

So the clarion call goes out. “From today we will be a more X-centric organisation”. But what does that mean?

No wonder people turn their heads, nod and then keep doing things the same way. Sure, I might know that the dictionary definition of “centric”, or it’s more convoluted cousin “centricity”, is “at the centre”. But that doesn’t help me much.

To learn why you need to define the meaning of the words you use, click here.

Can you tell me what it means to your organisation? Can you relate it to what you do and how you do it? Hands up. I’ll wait …

And no, I don’t mean a generic definition such as “we put our customers at the centre of everything we do”, which is simply a longwinded way of saying “we will be customer-centric”!

Of course, “centric” isn’t alone in the annals of words that get thrown around like confetti. Quality, innovation, service, and on and on. It’s a long list. And the result is always the same.

If I don’t understand what it means for me, for my job, then I’ll either ignore it and keep doing what I’m doing, or I’ll use what I think it is, which is sure to be different from the way Joe down the hall uses it.

So how can you get past the meaningless platitudes and define “centric”?

The same way you come up with a definition of anything. Think about how the word relates to your identity (your purpose and values). Get together with some other people and agree on it. Write it down. Explain it in concrete terms, using examples people can relate to. Talk to them about it. Repeat the last two steps across the organisation for every role.

Here’s what that process looked like for one organisation.

They gathered a group of people from across the organisation – frontline retail, IT, finance, distribution, marketing and HR. Over some weeks, they spent time discussing what “centric” actually meant for each area, paying extra attention to places with no direct customer contact.

Once they had a foundation, they came up with a statement to define what “centric” meant. In their case, it was a question, but it can take any form as long as it makes sense to you and aligns with your identity.

And they didn’t stop there. The question was road-tested in workshops with people from across those different areas to see if it helped them apply the idea of centric in their roles.

Once the workshops proved the question was useful, it was rolled into some simple tools for managers to communicate with their teams and build out the concrete examples for everyone.

The whole process took a month in a big organisation. I’m sure smaller businesses would do it much faster. But do it. Do it before you start jumping into “experience design”. Do it the minute you start thinking about being more X-centric. Do it before you start talking about it.

Then use the first time you talk about X-centic to also define it and have examples of what that looks like ready to go.

Language is an essential part of how we communicate. It helps build a common foundation and opens the door to actions. So don’t shortchange your efforts. Define what “centric” means before you start.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Three scenarios that show businesses should sweat the small stuff


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