Amazon sign
If only pleasing the customer was what moved people ahead with their careers PHOTO: simone.brunozzi

To stay relevant in the digital landscape, organizations must develop an obsessive customer focus.

In the US, more stores are likely to close in 2017 than during the height of the great recession in 2008. Those retailers who have committed to digital are not finding it easy either. In 2016, Amazon accounted for 53 percent of all sales ecommerce growth, according to eMarketer. Those are astonishing figures.

How is Amazon so much better than everybody else? Because it has a “true customer obsession,” according to Jeff Bezos. Many organizations have a fake customer obsession. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

Amazon truly believes in putting the customer first. “Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer,” Bezos. “They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.”

The key to success is getting to know your customers better than they know themselves. “There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach,” Bezos explains, “but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”

An obsession with the customer experience is nothing new for the great brands. It’s how Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s grew. Bezos believes that the decay and ultimate demise of an organization begins when it starts to lose touch with its customers. To grow, an organization must constantly renew its obsession with its customers.

Instead, many organizations become obsessed with their processes, procedures, internal structure and culture. They lose touch with their customers. Instead of saying: “How do I please my customer,” it becomes: “How do I please my manager.” Thus organizations lose the feel for their customers, and can no longer properly interpret whatever customer research or data they receive.

A primary objective of digital teams should be to keep the organization in touch with their customers. To show the rest of the organization what it’s really like to be a customer. Digital must also create an environment of continuous improvement founded on the principle that the customer is forever dissatisfied. They will always respond well to better value offers, to more convenience, to greater speed and simplicity.

The danger is that in many organizations, digital is doing the exact opposite. It is seen as a way to remove contact with the customer, to get them to self-serve — not necessarily because it’s better for the customer, but because it’s cheaper for the organization.

These are the organizations that are in the greatest danger. They use digital to reduce costs, and as a result they reduce touch and contact with (as well as understanding of and empathy for) their customers. In such environments, latent customer dissatisfaction blossoms and competitors will pounce.

A customer obsession begins with constantly thinking about the customer, rather than constantly thinking about the design, the content, the code, the process or your boss. Unfortunately, obsessing about your boss is how you progress in most organizations.