2022 04 21 Cognosis Illustrations 3 Uncomfortable

Putting the customer first is usually described in upbeat terms that can make it sound easy to achieve. However, the hard work and rewards of customer centricity need tougher vocabulary. No pain, no gain, says Daniel Hall.

Browse a values statement or behaviours charter in most companies, and you’re bound to find a reference to customer centricity, in some shape or form. The language tends to have positive connotations around connection, empathy, community, co-creation and so on. It rarely captures the jarring difficulty of turning those aspirations into solid returns.

Don’t confuse customer centricity with customer awareness/focus. It takes more than thinking from your customers’ point of view. Truly customer-centric organisations obsess about exceeding their customers’ current and future expectations. Their culture puts customer needs at the core of decision making and execution – across all functions. It becomes automatic to ask: “What next for our customers?”

There’s a hard edge to customer centricity. Understanding what the customer wants in the future, before they (and your competitors) figure it out, is a persistent challenge. It should become a nagging itch, right across the company. An intrinsic preoccupation, a gnawing agitation, an insatiable addiction. It’s no exaggeration to say that those who get it right are the ones who lie awake at night, racking their brains for the next burst of inspiration.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy describes this unhealthy fixation with customer experiences as a state of ‘divine discontent’. “The beauty of this mission is that you never run out of runway,” he explained to shareholders in 2021. “Customers always want better, and our job is both to listen to their feedback and to imagine what else is possible and invent on their behalf.”

The pain factor of customer centricity perhaps explains why so few companies make the leap from good intentions to sustainable growth. According to research, nine out of 10 companies know they should put customer needs at the heart of their business strategy. They all see customer experiences as a source of competitive advantage. But when pressed, only 14% of business leaders are prepared to claim that their companies truly focus on the customer.

These are lost opportunities, because customer centricity is proven to deliver stout financial returns. Our research also found that industry leaders in Net Promoter Scores (NPS) gain almost three times higher total shareholder return, compared to the stock market average. If you are one of the 14%, or already on a journey of transformation, then all well and good. If not, then customer centricity is your burning platform.


People are quick to straw-man customer centricity as simple common sense. Or it can be pigeonholed into obvious customer functions. It’s all about customer service standards, right? How many rings does it take to answer the phone? How quickly do we resolve customer complaints?

Or customer centricity be seen as somebody else’s responsibility. It’s up to the guys in the call centre, not marketing, finance or HR. That’s their job, not ours. (Digital transformation can elicit the same eye roll. Everybody looks to the IT department, when true transformation needs to be pervasive across the whole company.)

Or why not parachute in a senior hire and make it their thing, while everyone else just carries on with the day job? Yes, it can be powerful to bring in an advocate and champion, but they're not going to fix it for you. They need to fix it with you.

Customer centricity means going deeper than just listening to customers to genuinely understanding their needs. That’s how you get to the unmet needs of the future, which will result in sustainable growth. It relies on innovation and creativity. A deep dive into consumer and customer insight, rather than skipping across the surface.

Transformational, not additive

The bad news is that there’s no quick fix. Customer centricity needs to become second nature in everything your business does, providing a guiding light for decision making, how you structure the business, who you hire, how you hire, how you incentivise, how you reward, how you collaborate, your culture, your leadership behaviours. It needs to be intrinsic and transformational, rather than additive. Businesses find it hard, because it is touches everything and becomes harder to chunk up. Getting everybody onto the same page in a big organisation is a massive challenge and takes time. It requires commitment from the top and leadership at every level.

When your world isn't on fire, it's a big thing to say: we're going to change the way we consider our entire approach to strategic planning. That can feel terrifying. It’s another inhibitor to a major decision that could be the best you make this year.

Customer centricity shouldn’t be an assortment of pretty words beneath an icon in a brand document, but rather a pounding call to action that will make the organisation feel inadequate at times. If you accept that the perfect customer experience doesn’t exist, then there are always opportunities for improvement, which should create tension and a sense of restlessness.

Make no mistake: putting the customer first is disruptive and painful. But that’s no reason to shut your goodintentions away in a drawer.

The Sustainable Growth Index by Cognosis correlates the behavioural and cultural traits of 1,400 listed companies. The companies that focus most on the customer have outperformed their competition over 15 years.

Companies that combine purpose and customer centricity see the largest gains in long-term sustainable growth. Matching a customer-centric culture with a powerful growth strategy unlocks optimised total shareholder return.

Working closely with industry-leading corporations, our consultants create bespoke and targeted action plans for building a customer-centric culture. Discover how we can help drive sustainable growth in your organisation.

Strong leadership turns customer centricity into sustainable growth

Customer Centricity is business speak you can’t ignore

Busting the 5 myths of customer centricity

To learn more about customer centricity for your business, please get in touch with Daniel Hall: