Do you really need to be customer-friendly?

Do you really need to be customer-friendly?

Don’t confuse being customer-centric with being customer-friendly

It’s those four little words. So many senior execs have uttered them in some shape or form in virtually every first meeting I have ever attended.

“We are customer-centric”.

It would appear to be the height of unprofessionalism to say or admit to anything else. The customer has to be the heart of everything a company does and almost every company will tell you they are.

So why is it, for most organisations ……… I will say it ……… simply not true?

Big difference

Saying that there is a big difference between being customer-friendly and customer-centric might sound as if I am stating the bleeding obvious but please think about this for a moment. As a customer, how many companies have you met that are friendly and courteous enough but leave you with the impression that everything they do is centred around their product not the customer? I would imagine quite a few.

How many companies appear not to be customer-friendly yet perform to the top of their markets? Not so many examples come to mind.

Being customer-centric would imply being customer-friendly but it is not necessarily the case. Have you ever watched the medical drama House? English actor Hugh Laurie plays a brilliant American doctor who is difficult, rude and unkempt. Many of his colleagues don’t like him. Patients don’t like him. He says exactly what he thinks. If what he says hits a nerve – well tough! However, Dr House had a gift. He could diagnose and cure in the most obscure and complex situations where few others could. Imagine yourself lying in a hospital bed. You are very ill. You are frightened. You don’t know what’s wrong with you and the Harley Street surgeon type who has been coming to your bedside the last week doesn’t either. He is very professional and re-assuring though.

Who do you want at your side when times get tough? Do you want the rude, terse but brilliant doctor who gets you better? Or do you want the smooth, suave, Harley Street type who holds your hand whilst you die?

I have always maintained that customer outcomes have greater and sustained impact on customers than experience. Outcomes are related to needs. Experience is related to wants. Outcomes are not always obvious, customer may not state them or not even be aware of them. When a company delivers a need that customers and competition are not yet aware of then you are entering the field of customer innovation. This is where business propositions develop that all-important edge.

Touch and go

If everything else is equal, then improved experiences created at a customer touch point will make a difference. That said, in the customers eyes, a better outcome will invariably trump a better experience.

In other words, if company A offers better outcomes but a worse experience than company B then in most situations company A will achieve greater success than company B. The lack of customer experience means some customers from company A will defect to company B, but they will mostly go to the company that offers the better outcomes.

I have heard some practitioners claim that customer outcome is part of customer experience. I would argue that is simply not true they are hugely different. Companies that recognise the difference between outcome and experience, and act accordingly will enjoy considerably greater success.

Charles Bennett

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.