Building A Social Business: 3 Obstacles to Customer-Centricity

Jean-Marie Bonthous, Seamless Social

I am reading again an excellent 2009 article by Gaurav Bhalia called “Barriers to Customer-Centricity.” Bhalia is author of the very insightful book “Collaboration and Co-Creation: new platforms for Marketing and Innovation” (2010).

Gaura Bhalia’s three reasons for the failure of customer-centricity

Bhalia outlines that, while most companies claim to be customer-centric, the reality is different. Brand-centered ways of thinking are, more often than not, not replaced with customer-centric ways of thinking. He believes, that, contrarily to most prevalent theories about culture and leadership, such failures are not due to breakdowns in conceptualization and implementation, but to human failures.

Bhalia lists three human failures which, he believes, are behind the inability of most organizations to become customer-centric:

1. Insufficient appreciation of a significant other

2. Inability to visualize an alternate reality

3. Lack of will

Building a social business: three fundamental obstacles to customer-centricity

My own experience is that, while these three human failures make a lot of sense—I find the second one actually particularly intriguing—there are other forces, possibly with deeper roots, which inhibit the transition to a customer-centricity. Here they are.

I’ve headed several very large-scale business transformation initiatives, where the stated goals included integrating the enterprise around an understanding of the customer needs, and to deliver to these customers what they wanted to in order to be satisfied. Each time, extensive research identified the drivers of customer satisfaction, and extensive organizational took place change, including organizational redesign, process redesign and job design, to align the organization around this new focus.

While significant successes were accomplished, each time, there was powerful organizational resistance. Looking back, the obstacles to becoming customer-centric belong in three categories:

1. Organizational obstacles

Customer centricity threatens structures of power, especially if these structures internally-focused. Employees who may have climbed the organizational ladder by succeeding at organizational politics may fear a loss of power and status in an environment where the dynamics of organizational influence would be increasingly driven by an ability to understand customers. And the closer the people are to retirement, the less tackling such shift may appear attractive to them.

2. Psychological obstacles

Customer-centricity is an acquired set of capabilities. For most managers and executives this is not what they had to learn on their way up. They looked at customers as mostly means to increase market share and profits. Research into customer preferences was mostly a once-a year exercise, and usually only those findings were implemented that, if not addressed, could generate into an overt crisis in the near future.

The psychological obstacles to customer-centricity are largely fear-based: fear of loss, of certainty, control, competence, routines, familiar procedures, relationships. There is also a fear of losing known ways of working and the associated rewards without having any assurance about whether the rewards will be worth the risk. The questions here can be: “If we become more customer centric, what am I supposed to do differently? How successful will I be at doing this? What help will I get? How well will I perform and how will pay be tied to performance?

3. Social obstacles

These obstacles have to do with a lack of familiarity of the world of customer-centricity, and with related feelings of inadequacy. “How do you get closer to customers? How do you listen to them, and what to you listen to or not? How do you engage them? How do you even begin to collaborate with them?

Becoming customer centric involves learning a great deal of new skills, acquiring new knowledge, and engaging in new behaviors. For many, this can be a daunting perspective.

Do you see other obstacles to organizational migration toward customer-centricity?

I would love to hear your comments.
Photo by April in New Albany, Flickr Creative Commons.

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