No business can survive without customers. They are integral to the success, or failure, of any organization. Wikipedia defines a customer as:

“In sales, commerce and economics, a customer (sometimes known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is the recipient of a good, service, product or an idea — obtained from a seller, vendor or supplier via a financial transaction or exchange for money or some other valuable consideration.”

And while over the last several years we keep hearing how truly important customers are, more often than not it's in the context of Amazon’s customer obsession: “Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

I think it’s safe to say most organizations haven’t achieved this level of customer focus. What's preventing them? Because while no one seems to disagree with this in theory, in practice it’s much more challenging to implement.

The Disconnect Between Listening and Action

Let me offer some examples from my own recent experiences to highlight why I believe this customer focus / obsession is more challenging to implement than expected. The first comes from a national grocery chain that has at least two different outlets in the area where I live. One focuses on the upper middle class (e.g. it’s more expensive) and its sister store focuses more on the middle class. I tend to shop at the one focusing on the middle class more frequently, primarily because it’s less expensive, but will shop at the other one on occasion as it’s much closer.

Periodically after shopping at the “higher end” one, I am asked to participate in a survey about my experience in exchange for rewards points. While both stores share the same store brands, the “higher end” one charges more for those same brands, sometimes significantly more. Yet every time I fill out the survey I am always asked to comment why my shopping experience wasn’t exceptional and would I continue to shop at this store if another grocer moved into the area? Given that my responses to the survey have been pretty consistent for the last 1 or so years, one might think the grocer would follow up to learn more or might possibly take my comments to heart, but for whatever reason, that has yet to happen.

That's a B2C example. Here are two from B2B relationships I have with technology service providers. I reference both because the same issue consistently occurs with each. Both constantly try to reassure me that they have my best interests at heart, yet when I ask for something specifically or make a suggestion, my suggestions rarely if ever seem to get listened to. One service provider has an expertise I don’t possess and doesn't seem overly interested in understanding my business or my objectives. With the other service, I have significantly more background in the area we are discussing, although I am still getting up to speed on its particular capabilities. However, in both instances, listening and acting on that information seems to be a challenge.

In comparison, a recent Amazon purchase showed once again its customer focus in full force. After a logistics issue with an order, the company notified me it had cancelled my order and issued a full refund. I still wanted the items, so initiated a chat with a customer representative. Not only did the rep manage to get half of my order delivered within a few days (after an originally scheduled wait time of over a week), their response to the initial mix up was unlike any I've experienced with another company. 

Learning Opportunities

Improving Customer Focus Sometimes Requires Help

Organizations clearly appear to be having some issues with adopting a truly customer-centric mindset, especially when compared with Amazon. Over its 23 year history,
the company has developed a business that clearly resonates with consumers and organizations. Endless aisle, two day shipping, easy returns, Amazon Web Services and more are all customer-centric services aimed at raising the customer experience bar. So the question remains why so few companies (e.g. Apple, JetBlue, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, Publix, etc.) besides Amazon are perceived as having a customer focus and orientation?   

I would suggest most organizations don’t currently have an obsessive customer focus as part of their cultural makeup. Developing one requires some degree of cultural change, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. 

Companies are out there to assist in these efforts to become more customer oriented, for example StellaService, a company founded in New York City in 2009 that measures and rates the customer service performance of online companies in a process audited by global accounting and auditing firm KPMG. Provo, Utah-based Qualtrics, is an experience management company that helps customers collect and analyze online data for market research, customer satisfaction, loyalty, product and concept testing, and more. These two are just the tip of the iceberg. Many other companies focus on the customer experience space, these are just a few examples notable for their work in the digital realm.

Build Your Customer Obsession

The majority of organizations have plenty of room for improvement in managing their customer focus to keep pace with the leaders. Organizations should start focusing on ways to further develop their customer “obsession” sooner rather than later to better position their organization as the battle to delight customers heightens.

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.