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What does it mean to be customer centric?

Joe Romello & Tiffany Joy Greene, MBA

What does it mean to be customer-centric?

"It is the customer that pays the wages." - Henry Ford

"There is no great mystery to satisfying customers.  Build them a quality product and treat them with respect."  Lee Iacocca

"Get closer than ever to your customers.  So close that you tell them what they need before they realize it themselves." - Steve Jobs

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." - Bill Gates

Do you know what the commonality is between all these industry leaders and their quotes?  They do not discuss operations, innovation, execution, finances, or anything else within their companies.  They all focus on the consumer of their products and services, THE CUSTOMER.  You and I (and even the leaders quoted above) are all customers.  Here is my challenge to you.  Look at yourself in the mirror, and ask yourself, the customer, a very simple question, "What do you want?" 

When you ask yourself that question, you are soliciting information from a customer about their wants and desires.  Business begins with the customer.  If you have a different view of where business starts, then your business is most likely to fail.  Without customers, every business fails - every single one!  Therefore, customers are like oxygen for your business; you need them to survive.

How do you accomplish acquisition and retention?  Simply reread Lee Iacocca's quote above.  Provide a QUALITY product and treat them with RESPECT.  Both actions "provide a quality product" and "treat them with respect" involve listening.  If you don't listen to your customers (and prospective customers), then you will not provide them with a quality product and you will disrespect them by not listening to what they are telling you.  

So, what does it mean to be customer-centric?

Simply at every echelon of your business - strategy, product development, service delivery, pricing, availability, etc., the following questions should be asked by everyone in the business,

  • What does this do to my customer? 
  • Will it be a positive contribution to the customer? 
  • Will it be a quality product in the eyes of the customer? 
  • Will it be worth the cost to the customer? 
  • Will it respect the customer?
Challenging every internal decision with these questions and ensuring the answers are positive in the eyes of your customers means that you are making customer-based decisions.  Decisions that will retain and improve the quality of your product are based on listening to the feedback of your customers.  This is what it means to be customer-centric.

Example - MSP Industry Not Exhibiting Customer-Centricity

According to Cloud Bot Software's research, "Unfortunately, respondents overwhelmingly agree that they are not getting what they need out of the relationship with their [IT] service provider.  Fully 80% say they are so frustrated that they are actively looking to replace their existing provider in the next twelve months.  Let that sink in: 4 out of 5 MSP/CSP customers are in play within the next year because their service provider is falling short."

Why are so many customers dissatisfied with their MSPs?  MSPs are focused on contribution margins.  They increase their contribution margins by targeting a specific vertical, offering specific solutions (cookie-cutter solutions), and charging a monthly rate per end user.  The goal is to offer the same solution repeatedly because it keeps costs low and margins high.  Therefore, they expect the customer to conform to their services, rather than the MSP conforming to the customer's needs.  This approach causes operational inflexibility for the customer.  Ultimately, the MSP is generally unable to give the customer what they are looking for, instead, they just offer a canned or one-size-fits-all solution.  A truly customer-centric MSP will customize solutions to fit a customer's needs.

All too often MSPs serve as "set it and forget it" services.  However, customers want more.  They want their MSP to be intimate with their business, and they want the MSP to understand their goals and objectives.  They want the MSP to be a partner with them to help them achieve their goals and objectives.  Unfortunately, for many MSPs, clients serve as a means to an end to achieve their own business goals, rather than their customers' goals.

Gone are the days of MSPs just providing general help desk support and hardware.  Customers want a customer success team that will provide quarterly business reviews and offer continuous improvements, including recommendations for new technologies and software.  They want automation.  Most importantly, customers want accountability and transparency.  They want to know exactly what they are promised, which should include the values and fees that come with the promises.  

All industries evolve and change, especially the technology industry.  As cloud-based services continue to grow, the need for traditional MSP services diminishes.  Therefore, MSPs need to consider the following questions:

  • What does offering the same products and services do to my customer? 
  • Will offering the same products and services be a positive contribution to the customer? 
  • Will offering the same products and services be a quality product and service in the eyes of the customer? 
  • Will offering the same products and services be worth the cost to the customer? 
  • Will offering the same products and services respect the customer and THEIR needs?
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