The Always-On Customer Obsessed Organization

There are many anomalies in the business world today. None bigger than the intent to put the customer at the center of our ecosystem or being “customer-obsessed”. While 9 out of 10 organizations would claim to do it, 9 out of 10 actually don’t end up doing it.

While the customer is at the center in the “vision”, the strategy and execution puts either the channel, product, technology or competitor at the center.

Three simple reasons:

  1. First & foremost, being customer-obsessed is more difficult; it’s more work, an entirely different mindset and muscle
  2. Incentivization, organizational and operating models are all based on either channel, product or the scale of technology that is built and utilized
  3. The definition of success for the business does not align with the customer’s definition of success

The entire ecosystem is orchestrated with the customer on the peripheral and not at the center. No surprises why a fundamental philosophy like Customer Relationship (CRM) is managed more like a toolset or a database or an ability to send emails.

What is Customer-Obsession?

No one definition of course — An ability and mindset to invest in understanding the human behind the customer, her met and unmet needs/desires; both emotional and functional. Then using that understanding at every single opportunity to meet her unmet needs or exceeding her met needs at a time, location and context of her choice. Living in that infinite cycle where the brand needs to add value every single day, to inspire the user to stay or come one more time, and then one more time.

Jeff Bezos in one his recent letter to his employees talked about a “Day 1” company that is customer obsessed at it’s core:

“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. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it”

It is a belief that the customer is always under warranty. When you use that belief to give the customer what she “may need” even before she knows she needs it, that is being customer obsessed.

A mindset that does NOT take loyalty for granted; loyalty in an era of instant discovery and accessibility is only as good as your last valuable experience or your first bad experience. This is only possible when you make customer the real protagonist of your story, not your brand.

Always-On Customer Obsession

The Always-On Organization

I call such Day-1 companies as “always-on” organizations; they are constantly testing, learning, failing with an always-on mindset that centers around the customer and not the channel. I define the always-on organization that puts the customer at the center:

“.. an organization that always LISTENS to customer behavior from all channels & touchpoints;

always transforming the behavior into UNMET needs and expectations;

using the unmet EXPECTATIONS to deliver the most relevant, contextual and seamless EXPERIENCE;

at a location, touchpoint and time of the CUSTOMER’s CHOICE.”

Here are a 10 key traits of an always-on organization that enables its customer-obsessed culture (in no specific order of priority):

  1. They are Data Driven – For them, being data-driven is not about the volume, velocity and variety of data but the harmonization and application of data to deliver higher value to the customer. They don’t just use data in the rear view but use it to look ahead. They constantly apply both qualitative and quantitative analysis to “understand human behavior” that prevents their growth and then come up with the strategy to “change that human behavior” that prevents their growth. They are “always listening” to the signals originating from every single action from across the customer’s universe.
  2. Focus on Understanding Expectations Before Experience & Engagement – They invest in determining the user expectations and behaviors before planning experiences that drive engagement. They realize that churn is a symptom of the eventual Experience not matching the Expectations. They understand the causality behind the problem; the “so what” behind every correlation.
  3. They are OmniChannel – While they appreciate and adopt the proliferation of channels and touchpoints in the digital world, they don’t operate within the channel silos. Their experiences are behavioral driven and not isolated by channels. They engage customers with relevant, contextual experiences at a time, location and channel of her choice, not theirs (brand’s). The experiences they drive are “always seamless and frictionless”.
  4. They Don’t Do Campaigns but Deliver Always-On Contextual Experiences to Build Emotional Connection with Customers– For them marketing is beyond just campaigns with a start and end date; an exciting creative idea that gets distributed through channels. Marketing is more about understanding the human context and delivering immersive, relevant content that inspires and drive human behavior. It has no start and end date; it is always-on. They converge the art and science of marketing to build an emotional connection with the customer. Read one of my posts on the 5 Cs of modern marketing
  5. Agile Experimentation, Test & Learn Culture – They are “always testing and learning”; they don’t look for a perfect solution but something that is good enough to learn and iterate upon. They use customer response and behavior as the biggest focus group and not layers of proxies to make decisions.
  6. Failure is Success – They don’t accept failures but celebrate them. They are “always taking risks” and “always learning from failures”. They reward failures as much as they reward success.
  7. They Align Organizational Model with the Customer Journey – Their organizational and operating models are not vertically isolated by channels, product areas or just individual brands. They establish a longitudinal layer that protects the customer and her interest above and beyond the business. This layer acts like the orchestrator in a symphony while all the vertical parts of the business are specialist contributors to the ultimate outcome. They believe that customer experiences are a reflection of how you are organized.
  8. Applies Systems Thinking to Build Ecosystems, Breakdown Silos – They apply systems-thinking to connect the dots at both a macro and micro level. They invest in building ecosystems and are “always breaking down silos” across data, technology, processes, planning.
  9. They Have a Common Definition of Success Through the Organization that Directly Aligns with Customer’s Definition of Success – The biggest reason for a fragmented customer experience is internal misalignment between parts of the organization. This is a by-product of having different definitions of success. They establish common success KPIs that are aligned with the customer’s needs and desires.
  10. Invest in Future – They are “always innovating” and investing pro-actively in predicting and delivering future needs of the customer. They don’t look for industry case studies but create new ones for others to use.

Being such an always-on organization that is customer-obsessed is extremely difficult. That’s why it’s a JOURNEY and not a sprint. It is a mindset and cultural shift for most organizations but a shift that is necessary and no longer optional.

It was always “human first”.