5 signs you are NOT as customer focused as you thought

By Ross A Hall on October 30th, 2016
5 signs you are NOT as customer focused as you thought

We all like to think we’re customer centric. We try and place the customer at the heart of our thinking, only it is all too easy to lapse back into old habits. When that happens what we call our “customer centric” approach is really just the old internal focus with a new skin on it.

When I work on projects I take a genuinely “customer first” approach. I put myself in the shoes of the various customers we’re trying to target and try to work from there. Only all too often I come across projects where the grand “customer first” vision slips back into the internal world all too quickly.

So how do you know if this is happening to you? These are some common signs that you may need to reset your thinking…

1. Your user stories are full of non-customer elements.

User stories have become a de facto way of describing solutions. They’re usually set out in the format “AS A customer I WANT TO do something SO THAT I achieve some result I’VE SUCCEEDED WHEN some criteria that define success.” Quite often I’ve found teams make a good stab at getting the “customer” word into the start, only for it to slip away into what “the business” wants to achieve.

Keep focus on the customer. Describe what the customer wants to do, what they want to achieve and what they will judge success to be. If you find elements of internal needs starting to creep into the stories question whether they’re actually different, supporting stories that describe some internal activity that the customer doesn’t need to be exposed to.

2. Processes are oriented towards improving life for the business.

Customer centric means starting with the customer’s view of the world and building things that support what they want to do and what you can offer for mutual benefit. If what you’re doing is putting a gloss on existing processes by improving communication with the customer, or making it easier to interact with your process then the chances are something is wrong.

One business I worked with took this to such an extreme that the solution they designed wasn’t customer centric at all. Instead they designed something that made an existing process work “better” by moving all of their internal inefficiency onto customers to resolve.

3. CX and UX are kept out on the edges.

If you’re truly customer centric then your Customer Experience and User Experience design team should be front-and-centre. The lead for the design should be coming from them as they work through customer objectives and behaviours, business needs and technical solutions. If your operational team are leading the design with the Customer Experience element being layered in you’re not customer focused.

Trying to layer a “customer experience” onto an operations led digital project proved to be a disaster. The operational demands became so complex and so much demanded of customers that it generated no new business and abandonment rates pinpointed the issue, but no amount of tweaking could fix it. Reengineering everything from the Customer Experience down reduced the demand on customers considerably, eradicated entire blocks of operational processes that were redundant and started to bring the business in. It just cost the company twice as much as their original budget and about twice as long.

4. No one has spoken to an actual customer.

In the modern data obsessed world there is a real risk that redesigns are driven more by numbers than emotions. Nowhere is this more evident than the obsession with using reports as the basis upon which to make decisions about what customers will / will not respond to.

They will provide insights and give guidance, but it is only when someone talks to a real person that the numbers start to come alive and the subtleties lost in numbers are uncovered. At the very least one or two “tame” customers should be rolled into the project to review prototypes and provide insight.

Survey data told a business it needed to extend its opening hours, potentially to 24/7, as customers couldn’t get the answers to the questions they needed when they needed. A couple of conversations revealed the real issue was people were going onto the website, expecting to find answers in some sort of FAQ and when they couldn’t they picked up the phone. The real solution was to improve their online support.

5. CX / UX design is based on “what I like” rather than what might work best.

Strong personalities on teams are inevitable. When that personality holds enough sway to start dictating design on the basis of what they like rather than what the evidence and research is suggesting then a problem is in the making. If this is starting to happen it needs to be tackled quickly.

A senior exec was so wedded to a particular approach to new user registration that they demanded it was incorporated. They’d encountered it once, thought it was great and decided that was what he wanted his digital experience to copy. Unfortunately the approach went against accepted practice and even the company he had discovered it on had abandoned it in favour of something more “traditional”. Once deployed registrations were far below target and a more appropriate approach was quickly implemented.

We’ve all worked on projects where “customer centric” has been a noble ambition that failed to deliver. For me the key to keep a constant watch for signs that things are starting to drift away from that and be ready to call it if need be.

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My name is Ross Hall.
I design effective, profitable experiences.
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