Gerry McGovern gave the opening keynote at CMSWire's DX Summit. PHOTO: Robert Levy

Think of Gerry McGovern — prolific author, founder and CEO of Ireland-based Customer Carewords and this morning’s CMSWire DX Summit keynote speaker — as a Robin Hood figure for the digital age. Granted, McGovern might be more comfortable onstage than in Sherwood Forest, and his agents of change might be insights not arrows, but his mission to redistribute power from organizations and governments to customers is equally revolutionary.

Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd, McGovern built on the themes in his most recent book, Transform: A Rebel’s Guide for Digital Transformation, as he shared his passionate belief that the key to digital transformation lies in using empathy and connection to think like the customer. “Tech is merely the enabler,” McGovern noted, “and big data won’t help.”

The Customer Is the Center of the Universe

“Your job is to be the channel,” McGovern reminded the audience. “And the way to do that is to walk in your customers’ shoes and see the world through their eyes.” McGovern had the room on its feet to practice an exercise designed start each day by embracing that humbler perspective:  Whether alone or even more ideally as a team exercise, McGovern recommended standing up and repeating aloud three times, “We are not the center of the universe. The customer is.”

McGovern believes that greater customer-centricity begins with greater respect for the customer’s time. He noted that the companies succeeding in digital transformation today are those that are “relentless in getting customers what they want as fast as possible.”

Co-Design to Give Control

What’s more, he noted that the ability to harness digital technology to create rapidly updating feedback loops is a key driver of customer success. Since customers have come to expect digital to be constantly up to date, companies like Google that can update maps within minutes or Facebook with instant updates to its profiles and pages will be the ones to enhance and elevate customer-centricity.

At a time when trust is eroding, not only between customers and companies but between citizens and government, McGovern believes that digital has the power to create transparency by building bridges between production and consumption. For example, he cited the potential of digital to help companies co-design products and solutions with their customers. But, “Don’t design to control,” McGovern reminded his listeners, “Design to give control.”

Bubbles and “Massive Skepticism”

Without dwelling on politics or taking sides, McGovern pointed to this year’s Brexit referendum and the US elections as key indicators that many companies and individuals seem to be living in bubbles that have fostered misinformation and misunderstanding. Often “what we think we are giving doesn’t match customers’ perceptions of what they are getting,” he observed.

What’s more, the “massive skepticism” McGovern sees appears to be growing and breeding new levels of digital distrust across the board. For instance, he noted that over 88 percent of B2B customers report being influenced by content marketing, while only 9 percent reported trusting vendor websites.

Rock Stars or Real Customers?

That means that in a world where “me and my friends” has become the most trusted information source, traditional value propositions are also in flux. That means that instead of taking current customers for granted as cash cows and often punishing them for their loyalty, companies need to realize that customers can only be expected to stay with the organizations that provide them with useful and relevant products and information.

McGovern believes that companies that commit to staying in touch with their customers have the best chance to avoid both arrogance and tunnel vision. All too often, he noted, companies will create ideal customer personas and market to those, completely ignoring the fact that their fantasy “rock star customers” don’t resemble their real customers in the slightest.

And if your customers continue to want your company’s products or services even though you may have come to view them in-house as established or boring? “Never forget that your customers are paying you to be bored,” McGovern reminded the crowd.