Monday, October 19, 2015

Being Customer-Centric is not about Perfection

If you are constantly focused on your perfection, you are focused on you - not your customer.

Digital is the age of customers. Customer-centricity is the description of the nature of the priorities in the organizations today. Building customer centricity consistently in a way that delivers the right experiences to the right customers at the right times is, in most companies, enormously complicated. Is Being customer-centric about perfection or improving? Inside-out or outside-in? What’s the best way to achieve it?

To think outside yourself in a customer-centric way requires, ironically, knowing yourself as a customer first. Knowing your inner customer helps build empathetic bridges to understanding customers both like and unlike ourselves. Seeing your company as customers is a very powerful experience - and sometimes a disgusting experience when companies have low values. However, striving for perfection might become opium for a company. It can lead to an ironic situation where you are much more focused to achieving perfection itself instead to improve customer centricity. It can also make you unwilling to accept customers' complaints, as you are “perfect.“ Another issue is that we usually think of perfection from our own shoes, not from customers; do we regularly ask our customers about their feeling of the perfection of our service? Furthermore, how do we measure perfection and how close to it we are? I personally believe that, from a managerial perspective, it is much more appropriate to set clear and measurable objectives based on customers’ expectations, and to passionately work on their fulfillment. This is the space where we should strive for continuously improving, not perfection.

The focus on perfection is indeed flawed, both as a practical matter and for the environment that is created. If you communicate your stance that you *expect* perfection as opposed to *strive* for it, then you will create timid underlings who will fear errors as oppose to reach for success. Building a culture of risk tolerance inspires the exercise of people's natural initiative and curiosity while fear of failure chokes it off. Perfectionism is hell on people around the perfectionist. It manifests itself in and out of leadership and positions. It is also useful to draw a distinction between perfection that is a function of personality and perfection that is simply a misguided understanding of the leader's role. The antidote for the latter is counter productive for the former, and vise verse. Great team play requires that people are aware of what other people are doing and that they recognize others may see things in a very different way. Personality is 'inside' the person, and some are better than others at shielding those outside from their personal demons. Lots of rooms here are for the choice of learning/growing/changing, as people are willing to improve. A good leader is encouraging people to challenge themselves and the status quo, but recognizes their team may hear the same words in different ways - they've got to bring their team members to a common understanding - which may not be the one that they themselves started out with.

If you are constantly focused on your perfection, you are focused on you - not your customer. It depends on whether or not a leader really wants customer-centricity, innovation, and team spirit. For some, the requirement for perfection is a function of personality. All that self-involvement might well be like an addiction. That quest/requirement/ expectation is a defense mechanism used in an attempt to keep order in a chaotic life. For such folks, inner work is the only way to rise to healthier levels of personality, and in doing so relaxes the demands placed on self and others. The cure is focusing on the customer and their perfection. What customers and client generally want is a no-nonsense, fit-for-purpose, and hassle free solution to their needs, combined with as little interaction with the seller as possible. Fit-for-purpose" - is equally true for human relationships as for solutions to other needs. Improvement and achieving the right balance in any truly customer-centric organization requires all team members to believe that things can be improved, and the culture that nourishes the desire and will to improve individually & teams need leadership & encouragement on the Improvement Journey, be it customer, service, product, or business solution. There are two points here, though:
* Trying to improve a process or system beyond about 90% effective start to yield diminishing returns in short order.
* A system or process that was 99% effective yesterday might be redundant or utterly ineffective tomorrow

In business, excessive focus on "being perfect" results in introspection, under-delegation, and unwillingness to admit any failures/shortcomings. The leader suffers, staff suffers, customers suffer. There is no perfect thinking or perfect human beings. Respectful objections and opposing viewpoints can be exactly what expands the team's thinking and leads to deeper understand, both of the problem and the process. Customer relationships are a reflection of the company's internal relationships. Perfection is a null-sum game.You very quickly hit diminishing returns. Mostly, achieving near-perfection is about simply not doing stupid stuff. You need to believe that, the customer is the lifeline of the business. Once you have this basic premise right, everything flows naturally, exceptional customer service and WOW moments will be the automatic result.


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