Customer obsession is the secret to success in a digital economy. Such a relentless focus on the customer requires a tremendous cultural shift for many organizations.

Since its inception, Amazon has sought to be the most customer-centric company around. “Our focus is on customer obsession rather than competitor obsession,” Jeff Bezos has stated.

Amazon can be a very tough and demanding place to work. You see, customer obsession is hard work. The easier you make it for the customer, the more complex and difficult you make it for the organization. Constantly thinking about the customer and seeking to adapt to their needs and demands can lead to significant internal stress.

The customer is a stranger and humans are not used to paying so much attention to the needs of strangers. The organization is a tribe, and each department or division is its own sub-tribe. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to be organization-centric.

This is particularly the case for senior management who often thrive on ego and the belief that they’re in charge, that they’re leaders. Such managers think that because they’re leaders, they should lead the customers. Yes, some market research will be done but when the strategy is formed the voices in the room are all organizational. The strategy inevitably puts the organization first.

The job of marketing, advertising and communications has traditionally been to spin organization-first messages as customer-first messages. Works well with a poorly educated, emotional and loyal target audience. That audience still exists in large numbers but it’s not as dominant as it used to be. 

Younger generations are much better educated, much more connected and have much greater access to information. They don’t buy the old organizational messaging. These cynical, skeptical customers are much harder to spin.

Those that retain an organization-obsession better hope that the market of poorly educated, loyal and highly emotional people continues to remain healthy. Those organizations that need to reach better educated customers need to become customer obsessed.

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Because here’s the thing: the customer has become obsessed with himself/herself. Many customers today have less money and more information. They have smartphones that allow them to access this information right at the point where it’s most useful. 

The customer isn’t king today. They’re dictator. If you have to explain something to them, you’ve lost them. If it’s not easy, they’re gone.

Customer obsession is hard, really hard. That’s why digital transformation is so difficult, because true digital transformation is about a cultural shift from organization-centric to customer-centric. 

The first step in this shift is creating new metrics. The vast majority of metrics today measure what the organization does. What it has created or produced, its projects and programs and initiatives, what it has spent and not spent money on, how many hours its employees have worked, etc.

We need far more customer metrics. What exactly does the customer want to do? Can they do it with us in the fastest, easiest possible manner? Are we getting better at helping our customers complete their tasks? 

That’s the shift. It’s not about organizational tasks. It’s about customer tasks.

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