Put Customers at the Center of Your Business… REALLY

When it comes to running a customer-centered business, everybody talks a good game. “Where The Customer is #1” is one of the most common taglines for businesses of all kinds—even those that treat the customers like #2, if you get my drift.

Put customers at the center
Ranjay Gulati of the Harvard Business School wants to help businesses get past lip service about customer centeredness so they can actually achieve it, and reap the incredible benefits. His book Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business is dedicated to exactly that.

Most companies focus first on their products and services and think of customers as potential markets for those products and services. It’s a 20th century approach that no longer works. A truly customer-centered process starts with customer needs and develops products and services to meet those needs.

Find out what problems the customers are dealing with, what issues they are confronting on a daily basis. Suddenly your path becomes clear.

Sounds easy, right? But to Gulati’s credit, he acknowledges that it’s not easy. For one thing, customers can’t always put a finger on what their concerns are, much less tell you in detail what products and services will help them solve those problems. So asking questions is crucial, but just as crucial is getting customers talking so you can listen. The more you can interact with your customers, both formally and informally, the better.

Fresh Express, the company that invented the salad bag, is one of Gulati’s favorite examples of doing it right. In the pre-bag days, when they were just a fresh produce distributorship, they didn’t ask customers if they wanted a bag of pre-cut lettuce. Instead, they asked about customers’ lives, learning in the process that the act of converting a head of lettuce into a salad was keeping people from eating salad. And they actually WANTED to eat salad.

Fresh Express seized that opportunity, and a $2.5 billion-a-year industry was born.

So what do your customers love? What do they hate? What frustrates them about their lives? Only when you know the answers to these questions can you create solutions that will serve you both. It starts with the customer, and it ends with success.

Leave a Reply