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Key Factors for Creating a Successful Customer-Centered Organization

August 24, 2011

Key Factors for Creating a Successful Customer-Centered Organization

If you think about different organizations, including your own, you will notice a spectrum of ways that companies think about building their success. During the heyday of the mass marketing era -- practically all of the 20th century -- companies were very product oriented. Companies tried to develop good products and then find customers for those products. Today, new technologies and rising customer expectations require companies to develop good customers and then find the right products for those customers. This customer-first approach requires a shift from product centricity to customer centricity.

What does it take to make that shift? Customer orientation means interacting with customers, not talking at them. It means co-producing with them, not just force-feeding products. It means differentiating customers by treating different customers differently, based on the different values they have to you, and the different needs they have from you.

There are two reasons companies don't adapt to the obvious reputational and financial advantages of taking a customer-centric approach and building better customer relationships: 1) It's not what they're used to; it's not what today's executives studied decades ago in their MBA programs. It's not in their skill set. 2) It requires new processes and technology systems and corporate culture. In other words, it's hard.

Try this: Think about all the places your company uses the word "product," such as the title "product manager" or the measure of "product profitability" or the idea of product development. Now, as an interesting intellectual exercise, substitute the word "customer" for "product," and imagine the implication of "customer lines" and "customer managers" and "customer profitability," and you can see pretty easily what the implication of customer orientation is. At its heart it's an acceptance of the fact that the customers we have now, and the customers we will have in the future, will account for all the revenue we ever make. Once we realize that, shifting to a customer orientation looks that much easier.

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