The road to customer centricity is long and winding. It’s different for each organization. Many organizations will try to achieve it, some will fail, and others will disappear over time. Very few will get to the end of the roadmap first envisioned, and that leads to, and means, a never-ending journey in trying to focus on customer centricity. For many, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition; incremental steps in the right direction are better than no steps at all. But it often does not lead to the right customer focus.
Most companies I’ve worked with start with bold ideas that morph into incremental change, due to highly matrixed organizational structures and legacy systems that are often too complex to navigate or replace. A company built on these structures and systems has no choice but to become risk-averse, and therefore change-averse.
For this reason, getting firm-wide buy-in on customer centricity efforts is crucial to ensuring it as a priority at the top, middle and base, is vital. I have seen and heard that it is easy to get the top and base on board with customer centricity. It’s the middle that needs more convincing than others. In order to start to chip away at the middle, it’s essential to understand what do they fear and why? More often than not, the end goal is a secure retirement. That can be said about anyone. But even more so at this level. Why rock the boat that keeps on moving, or is slowly sinking, but can still deliver a secure retirement?
Every organization will have ideas set out, internally and externally, to be more customer-centric. Many focus on incremental change because it’s unacceptable to fail, even when we say it is okay. Saying and doing are very different. The company learns from seeing that it’s okay to do, or in this case, fail. The catalyst for fail fast is to celebrate failures. Many at the top have expressed to me that they’re still waiting for a failure to celebrate. My response is to show others a failure at the top that’s celebrated. I have even gone out of my way to use one of my most humiliating failures, in an environment where many went out of their way to see me fail, so that I could move aside for their elevation, to showcase that what we work on is not life and death. That the world will still turn and the company will still be profitable or solvent after my mistake, but most importantly, that we will learn together. For the record, it’s still humiliating for me to even think about, much less discuss this failure within my first 60 days on the job.
Still, maintaining a set of tangible, realistic goals that enable a future vision and delivery of that vision is what builds success, and turns the doubters into believers. The importance of focusing on the future and fast fail rather than incremental change cannot be understated either. Any negative impact on your firm’s short term financial results offset by a focus on long term growth will empower the naysayers who are risk- and change-averse, and can create a counter-movement to future efforts of meaningful change.
Organizations are quick to jump to design thinking as the end all, be all solution. That works if, and only if, we empathize with our customers. That means truly empathize, and that is another lifelong journey – to learn to truly empathize with others. Oftentimes companies look at their external customers. In any organization, the top customer to truly move to customer centricity is your “employee as customer.” In order words, to win in CX, organizations must first win in EX, or employee experience. Without them, culture can’t enable transition to a brave new world of customer centricity.
Millie Gillon is a native New Yorker and Singapore transplant who has a wealth of knowledge about innovation and strategy, and combines this with the use of data and design thinking to reshape the client experience.
Millie is currently the Global Head of Client Experience at Standard Chartered Bank. Prior to joining Standard Chartered, she led co-innovation for Citi and American Airlines at Mastercard. Millie has held senior product and innovation roles at Prudential Financial, JPMorgan Chase and American Express, where she concurrently earned her Masters in Communications and Leadership Studies and her Six Sigma Black Belt.