February 6, 2014

Being Customer-Centric in a Digital World

BY John Paul Narowski IN Customer Service, Sales and Marketing 0 Comment

Imagine it’s the middle of summer and you find yourself unequivocally lost in Death Valley, California – the hottest place in the world. And imagine that it happened through no fault of your own but simply because of a faulty GPS system that you had otherwise used many times beforehand with no issues. This is exactly what happened to three California travelers in 2011 when they were led astray in 120-degree heat by their once-trusted GPS system.

What it Means

Being customer-centric means possessing a deep understanding of your customers, and realizing that, ultimately, those very customers should be the key reason behind business decisions.

To illustrate this point, let’s turn to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post. In some of his meetings, Bezos will sometimes leave one seat open at a conference table and will go on to let all of the meeting’s attendees know that they should look at that seat as being occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.” Imagine how different your meetings would be if your company did the same!

Being customer-centric also means paying attention to the smallest details that can sometimes have the largest impact on your customers – and even on their lives – as in the case of Donna Cooper in her Death Valley incident as portrayed in the video above.

Why it Matters

Customer centricity relies not only on this deep understanding of your customers themselves, but it also depends on an awareness of what their intrinsic needs are. Taking it a step further, many customer-centric businesses understand that their own needs, as well as their goals, are directly intertwined with those of their customers.

In this day and age, it may mean taking a step back from traditional approaches to gaining customer insight and feedback and really uncovering what works best for them. For example, do the residents of an apartment complex really read those flyers people post on the bulletin boards above their mailboxes, or would it perhaps be more effective to get the message across to them via a social network if one was set up for them?

Customer centricity matters because your customers’ perceptions of your business – including their experiences with all of your sales, marketing, service, and support channels (to name a few) – ultimately become their reality as far as your business is concerned. It also adds a great deal of value to your business while simultaneously building loyalty, if executed properly. Perhaps best of all, it helps you to more clearly understand how your business can grow.

The Pitfall

Providing your organization with all of the tools it needs in order to make your customers happy is just one piece of the customer centricity pie. Consider, too, the impact that such an initiative may have on your business – especially in terms of reputation in the connected world we live in today.

Because of this, there is a very fine line between empowering employees with all of the necessary tools to respond to customer inquiries/complaints to reach mutual satisfaction without implementing initiatives that end up hurting the business.

A perfect case in point here is nicely outlined in an excellent article written by Gregory Ciotti at Help Scout titled, “How to Build a Truly Customer-Centric Company”. In his article, Ciotti references an initiative put forth by a retail bank that ended up creating a steep decline in fee revenue while increasing customer satisfaction only slightly – all in the spirit of customer centricity.

The Digital Difference

Some of you may remember the story of how United Airlines once broke Canadian musician passenger Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar, priced at $3,500, during a trip Carroll took when he flew on United back in 2008. After the incident, Carroll tried for 9 months – unsuccessfully – to file a complaint with the airline (United claimed that he had waited longer than their 24-hour policy to file his complaint). When he later suggested that United provide him with $1,200 in flight vouchers to at least cover the cost of repairing the guitar, he was flatly refused. Being the songwriter that he is, Carroll decided to write a song about the incident, creating a music video that went viral.

The ensuing public relations disaster that the fallout caused for the airline ended up not only costing United heavily in terms of views of the video on YouTube (currently at 13,733,939 as of the writing of this post), but also in terms of social media backlash in general.

The example above highlights just one of countless cases on how an incident gone awry and not handled with customer centricity in mind can lead to an unnecessary nightmare for a company in this digital age we live in. Thanks to social media, no longer can a company safely or simply use the antiquated “it’s policy” argument. Just visit any company’s Facebook page, for starters, and you are very likely to see customer complaints on their Wall out in the open for the whole world to see. These complaints, once kept relatively private in days past and usually always handled by a very small group of people at the company in question, are now cause for an entire company to turn into a PR damage control machine on a moment’s notice.

With all of this in mind, it’s a given that being customer-centric is important for any company doing business today; in fact, it is an absolute understatement to say so. In the end, let’s not forget that day after day, we are all really in it for just one person: the customer.


I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.

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