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What makes customer-driven companies so hard to build?

Lazy thinking would suggest leadership but the reasons are more subtle

It makes depressing reading. Virtually every survey I read hammers the same fact: customer experience has never been so important and yet, when executives report back, execution is not only lagging, it’s badly lagging.

I would suggest that customer experience is now the most misaligned initiative on the change agenda. Its importance is recognised – or at least articulated – but execution lags way behind.

Part of this arises from what the customer agenda really means. Like sales and project management, customer experience is the specialisation everybody thinks they understand. When I first became involved I marvelled at the layers of understanding that gradually unravelled until it hit me – I was thinking about the whole subject completely the wrong way. I was looking at customer management as another layer of specialisation that needed to be integrated into the logical but increasingly dysfunctional way we structure companies – the specialisation-driven organisation chart.

Customer experience, customer management, customer value, customer centricity – there are so many different but overlapping terms. We need to agree a start point before execution can start: a start that point represents a really good understanding of what the whole subject means to the organisation.

David Dodd, in his excellent article (“Closing the customer experience gap” ) explained some of the findings of a 2017 Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study of 680 executives about customer experience management.

What struck me was the gap between stated importance and effective deployment in almost every category. Only 15% of companies believed they were very effective in delivering a relevant and reliable customer experience.

From a cause-and-effect perspective many of the statistics quoted are at least partial effects from what I see as a staggering cause:

Management/leadership buy-in is benchmarked at 88% in importance but less than 50% in effectiveness.

Is there any wonder that effectiveness is low if the leadership simply are not buying in. Whether we like it or not our companies are built on a command/control-driven basis and that has been the same for 250-odd years. If the leadership do not believe in the centrality of the customer, then every other aspect of effectiveness is going to lag.

The problem is leadership is not short of options – there are options or variants spilling out from every corner of the business world – an increasingly problematic issue arising from an accelerating information age.

The single biggest reason why there is a gap is a lack of understanding of what the customer agenda really means and the implications it has for the 2018 organisation. The problem is – as the old adage says, “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. You can throw all the education in the world at someone, but it does not necessarily mean they will read, understand and properly digest it. No, the real critical success factor is even more basic than that.

The gap between stated importance and effectiveness will not START to narrow until we can meaningfully measure the impact on initiatives on P&L. Not for other companies. For the leader’s own company – with quality estimates that gain trust and confidence ahead of anything being deployed.

Isn’t it time we worked harder at making the ROI of customer-driven change simpler and more transparent? Then the customer revolution can start. All the evidence shows it has not started yet!


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.