On some level, most every company thinks of themselves as customer centered. But are they really?
Cynical as this may sound, customer centricity is often a low-grade form of self-deception, where false comfort comes from the belief that we know our customers when in fact we’re merely perpetuating mythologies. Thus, our customer knowledge becomes an artifact of our own internal biases and anecdotal experiences, distorted reflections of who we’d like our customers to be, not who they are in fact.
Customer centricity can become the flag that we wave even when our behaviors are to the contrary.
Which is why it’s so important to suspend these biases and assumptions—a challenge in its own right!—to get to know your customers for real. To develop the institutional empathy that allows us to see their needs beyond what may be false conceptions.
Many times, this means bringing in third-parties—agencies, consultancies and the like—to introduce a layer of objectivity and dispassion to a process that may otherwise be burdened by confirmation biases that creep in when we use facts selectively to gird hidebound hypotheses.
The best of these partners will approach customer insight from the perspective of ethnography, a close cousin of anthropology, which focuses on observing customers in their natural environments and reading between the lines of what customers tell us explicitly and what they demonstrate implicitly.
It’s a form of walking in a customers’ shoes, understanding their needs, goals and motivations without the gauzy filter of own stubborn biases or the limitation that customers are often inarticulate about or wholly unaware of what they want and need.
Last week marked the passing of Nell Harper Lee, the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird and (if you exclude Go Set a Watchman, which many will) perhaps the most famous one-hit wonder of all time.
In her magnum opus, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his [or her] skin and walk around in it.”
Good advice for customer experience and for life.