Building Customer Centricity and Sensitivity

Bad customer centricity not only impacts the supplier, but the end customer.

 – Sai Kumar Chandran –

Every now and then, someone in an organization brings up customer centricity or sensitivity. This conversation invariably comes-up when there has been a negative customer advocacy, or a key account / customer churn or great sales year but lesser net adds etc. Or it comes-up when a competitor is going all out on this area, creating a brand differentiation. In some sectors, this is also becoming a natural next step to gravitate towards once the brand has some traction.

  • But should these be the real stimuli for focusing on customer centricity?
  • And is customer centricity about improving negative customer perception or being the next management thing to fix?

The answer is, No. Real customer centricity is about discovering, servicing and engaging customers at every stage of the customer life cycle with an organization, so they not only buy and use – but also buy and build a relationship with the organization.

As prevalent as the familiar sounding conversation staters / starting points of customer centricity are, equally prevalent are a flurry of repetitive responses to customer centricity questions. Creating customer-oriented goals and metrices, making CS the centre of reviews and initiatives, training people – especially customer contact staff, bring in tools and analytics and even creating crack teams to solve customer issues are the common fallback mechanism of most organizations.

But it’s time we asked:

  • Will setting customer-oriented goals create customer impact?
  • Will hard reviews increase customer experience?
  • Will improving language improve customer service?
  • Will increasing meetings improve customer engagement?
  • Will crack teams solve the real problems causing your client the negative experience?
  • Will better tools improve customer usage of products?

The answer is, no, to all. In fact, over reliance on these elements can only increase the amount of stress in the system and yield no tangible benefits to a customer.
Customer centricity or sensitivity becomes an even more prominent catalytic phenomenon, in B2B customer relations, (like with product or service companies) where the impact is experienced at scale. Customer centricity or sensitivity also becomes critical in B2C relationships which have a high cost or criticality attached (like with automobiles or critical care). The criticality here comes not only from the significant negativity brought on by bad customer centricity but the differential gains to be made from having positive customer centricity.

Bad customer centricity not only impacts the supplier, but the end customer. It’s bad for everyone. I am sure you as a reader has had enough experience where you have been at the receiving end of bad customer centricity of companies. In some cases, we have also been on the other side, in organizations that were really not that great in customer centricity. So, I don’t need to talk about the ill-effects of this anymore.

Let shift focus. What is the way to customer centricity or sensitivity? Customer centricity is a culture, of focusing on doing only the best for your customers. This is achieved through an unrelenting focus on customers in the strategy, values, initiatives, tools and methods of the organization. CS is a mindset that needs to be lived by every employee. The answer is in cultivating a mindset and a systemic response comprising of great:

  • Discovery
  • Service
  • Engagement

While I will describe these in detail below: the 3 elements may have nuances based on industry and relationships. I am also using the word customer below, to even represent client or consumer as some industries would call their buyers.

Discovery is the mindset and systemic approach that helps an organization and professionals know the customer. This ‘knowing’ begins at the pre-sales stage and ends there in the traditional paradigm. However, in a customer centricity / sensitivity paradigm, discovery never ends. It starts with:

  • Understanding what the overall customer needs are.
  • Understanding any specific requirements or special needs.
  • It is an assessment of their current state, aspiration, and end-state.
  • A good quality discovery also establishes a customer’s willingness to change, their ability to bear the price and consequence of change is.

However, a progressive discovery not only focuses on finding what will influence the buying decision, but also what will help fulfilment of service and retention of the customer. As the sale, delivery and other customer interactions continue, discovery evolves into the current and changing realities of the customer. It even evaluates the emerging impact of our own product or service, so that the optimum advisory can be offered to the customer at every stage of the relationship. Discovery also can conclude that we as suppliers are not enough or right anymore for the customer. This too is a great outcome of a truly customer centric or sensitive discovery. Discovery also taps into any efforts that did not translate into sales, and circles back the lessons into the organizational approaches / customer touchpoints.

Service is the fulfilment aspect of a customer engagement post sale, as per traditional definition. However, in a customer centricity / sensitivity paradigm service is how we show-up for the customer and evolves with the customer relationship in addition to the traditional definition. It starts-off right at the pre-sales stage and feeds off the discovery pillar’s outcomes. A service mindset and systemic approach of customer centric / sensitive organizations would:

  • Never rush the customer or have an engage-disengage approach towards them.
  • It will pace with the customer while maintaining an optimal connect and flow of information.
  • Optimal service approach assesses the appropriateness of products and services from a customer’s needs, desired outcomes and meaningful impact lenses, rather than what’s best that we have to offer. This aids appropriate discovery in turn.
  • A service mindset also assesses and clarifies what we cannot offer or do.
  • Service effectiveness is clearly in being an advisor right from the beginning for the customer and showing-up in their interest.
  • It is clearly focused on winning trust and advocacy of the customer from initiation.
  • It is also informing, connecting, or directing the customer in the right direction, even if it away from us or our offerings.

Thereafter, a progressive service mindset, delivers on all commitments. Whether a product is delivered or services are rendered, a Service Mindset is aimed at quality and timeliness in providing what the customer needs. A service mindset in an organization, helps the system run to deliver quality and error free products and services to the customer repeatedly. Such a mindset also, shows-up as responsible and responsive, and taking the ownership of fixing any issues that the customer is facing. Service also, stays in sync with discovery to shape what is being delivered, when and how, if the requirements that were contracted change.

Engagement, in the traditional sense means meetings, influencer connects, SME touchpoints etc. However, in a customer centric / sensitive approach, engagement is a spirit and approach that shapes the entire narrative for the customer and in the customer’s mind. Engagement ensures:

  • Discovery is not mechanical, and service is not a check in the box.
  • It helps the customer to be themselves and not resort to deflections and delays.
  • It creates respect and space for the customer throughout a relationship.
  • Engagement validates and measures the quality of discovery and service all through-out.
  • Through measurements and validation, it develops a picture of what the client is believing and wants or needs more from the relationship.
  • Engagement also makes the customer express how they are viewing us – the service or product provider.

Engagement is mostly continuous meaningful conversations, but it is also an experience provided to the customer through accessible tools, relevant forums and transparent processes. Engagement also gives control in the hands of the customer for those things which they can control and would also give them the confidence in the relationship.

It is through an optimised triangulation of discovery – service – engagement that a customer experiences customer centricity and sensitivity. It is when a customer says we are customer centricity and sensitivity, that we become so, not by us claiming that we are. The fabric of an organization, its collective mindset and systems are designed deliberately to get this impact. There is no other way to get there. This is an effort worth making and all organizations should – not because it is one of the good things, but because it makes basic business sense. Success in this area, brings the customer closer to an organisation and keeps them close.

The journey to get here, starts with the vision and values of the organization. There after it needs to percolate into strategy and initiatives, till every individual is working at highest standards of customer centricity. It does take a few years to get there, just like an culture change does.

Sai Kumar Chandran is the founder of OrbitShift. He is a coaching and consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at

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