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“Customers are an essential, not optional, component in the decision-making process.”
Mark Hurst, best-selling business author and customer experience guru
Why businesses can never be truly customer-centered
Image: Catalina Kulczar
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Why businesses can never be truly customer-centered

February 2014

The customer-centered organization is a myth, argues Mark Hurst. Rather, the best businesses should make customer input an essential component of critical decisions.

Being customer-centered is an idea that’s been talked about in business for a long time. But as laudable as that might seem, it’s actually unrealistic. As vitally important as they are, customers are not the center of the company. Executives have many other concerns — new technologies, competitive threats, market trends, internal politics — to weigh when charting the organization’s strategy.

Look at the different pressures that CIOs have to deal with today, for example — technological disruptions, big data, new devices and mobile usage, as well as everything else that’s happening inside their organization. The customer is not at the center of those, they are just one of many essential inputs to any significant decision.

The key word is “essential.” Even though customers aren’t the center, they also should not be left out of the process. Concluding (correctly) that it’s impossible to be customer-centered, some executives have settled on the other extreme and stopped including customers at all. What we usually hear is: ‘The business already knows what customers want, and, in any case, customers don’t actually know what they want; there’s not enough time in the project to spend with real customers; customers are not designers so we shouldn't ask them to design the product; first we need to launch our product, then we’ll find out what customers think.’

Inspired decisions
t’s easy to empathize with each of these conclusions. Time is often short, teams often already know what they want to build, and customers indeed should not be asked to design (that’s the team’s job). But none of these factors should prevent the company from including customers. Customers are an essential, not optional, component in the decision-making process. Leaving them out can have serious consequences. So what we’re suggesting is that the customer is included, that the customer plays some role in the big decisions being made by executives — including CIOs.

There are good examples of organizations today that create new products, and new strategies, with customers included — not as the center, but as one of several essential ingredients in the process. These organizations have dramatically improved the customer experience in fields as diverse as healthcare, banking, travel, restaurants, Internet services, urban design, global development, and consumer technology. By including customers, organizations can dramatically improve the odds of success for any service, product, innovation, or strategy.

• Mark Hurst’s latest book Customers Included (co-authored with Phil Terry) is out now.

First published
February 2014
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About: Mark Hurst
Mark Hurst, founder and president of business consultancy Creative Good, has spent his career writing, speaking and advising on the strategic importance of creating great customer experience.

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