Customer Obsession: Getting Started With Digital…ehh…New Organizational Strategy (Part 2)

This is part two of a five part series taking a deep dive into in Digital / Organizational Transformation.

Background: Proposed a new definition for digital in Chapter 1. Digital is a way of being that exists at the confluence of customer obsession and organizational agility at scale, enabled by cross-functional, autonomous teams with technology excellence at the core. Chapter 2 explores the first key principle of what it means to be digital: customer obsession.

Chapter 2: Principle 1 — Customer Obsession

Last night I had a telephone call at 7 pm ET from a Kentucky number that I have never seen before. It happens to be from a debt collector appointed by PNC Mortgage.

I have had a mortgage with Bank of America from 2007 which after many different transfers has landed with PNC mortgage to service. My auto-payment set up on ‘BillPay’ had expired in July and I forgot to update the payment for August.

The lady on the phone didn’t even introduce herself and the purpose and jumped straight into business. I explained the situation as I updated the “BillPay” to pay automatically on the 8th of every month going forward and made the missing payment immediately through my Bank of America account.

The woman on the phone was not impressed with the confirmation number and “advised” that I should know how to use a coupon book for reminders and not forget. I told her coupon books are good for baby boomers and so last century; is there a way to set up email reminders like they do for American Express credit card monthly dues? The response was “Millions are using coupon books, you can too. Learn”.

Customer service is not about bullying your customer

I thought this particular interaction falls in the category of awful customer experience with a tone of “doing you a favor”. How can a financial services company of repute grow and thrive with such pitiful levels of customer engagement?

“If we can arrange things in such a way that our interests are aligned with our customers, then in the long term that will work out really well for customers and it will work out really well for Amazon.” — Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

While the concept of a customer-centric organization is pretty old, there are only a handful of global organizations that can truly claim to be obsessed with customers. Amazon is one of them — even during the early days, Bezos focused on setting the bar high for customer focus by bringing the popular empty chair to meetings with his senior executives.

The empty chair represented the customer who is the most important person in the room and the decisions taken always accounted for the ephemeral customer in the conversation. It’s this deep desire to serve the customer’s purpose that has led Amazon to create partnerships with other large retail enterprises (like Target, Sears and more) and distribution channels (like USPS) over the better part of this century now resulting in a creation of a digital behemoth that is hard to beat.

Bringing an empty chair to focus on customer is an easy way to start getting obsessed about the customer

Now imagine a too-large-to-fail retail bank bringing an empty chair (representing the absent customer) to their growth strategy meeting. If they did, the bankers and marketers would realize the mortgage hunting customer is not only looking for a low-cost mortgage (which they can easily get from another online aggregator service), they are actually looking for a home to live-in (or invest) and getting a low-cost mortgage is just one piece of a complicated puzzle.

When was the last time someone in the meeting seriously considered customer goals?

Maybe there is a hidden opportunity to create a digital platform bringing together everything that digitally empowered customers may need for having a home (including mortgages, insurances, movers, location finders, and more). Such a platform would potentially position the bank as an original value creator (sharp contrast with commodity mortgage provider) with current and future customers. The network effect of such an uber digital platform could be tremendous knowing very well that customers are always talking to one another and referring companies that provide wholesome experience anytime, anywhere.

Here is quick survey of only 5 questions that allows you to see how others are thinking about customer obsession in their organization.

Suncorp bank in Australia recently overhauled its business model by creating overarching customer platforms that provide seamless access and experience to its different businesses and products — think iTunes for services offered by the large bank.

Renowned strategist Clayton Christensen and his co-authors recently shared the story of a real estate developer in Detroit who found out through customer journey mapping that the company is not in the business of new home construction but in the business of moving lives. This simple realization changed the business priorities — the developer and the architect modified key experiences for the prospective home buyers and the company witnessed growth in business even when the housing market was going downhill.

Digital winners are good at developing strengths to thoroughly understand marketplace weaknesses and comprehend conditions that create friction for customers. Many of the current fin-tech startups are focusing on building products for customers who are underserved, or unserved by the incumbents. These companies are creating a great customer experience by focusing only on customer’s needs and motivations and delivering unprecedented value that the large competitors cannot provide but only complain about.

Three key attributes that demand shift in how organizations think about their customers

WhatsApp is another great example of such laser focus on customer needs and wants in a different domain. Multipotentialite WhatsApp founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum started their company in 2009 with a very simple product goal — create a messaging app people want to use and the first thing they removed from their product was core to eminent business models — advertising. They explained clearly why “we don’t sell ads”.

Whatsapp founders are well respected in the Valley for their customer obsession

WhatsApp is a simple chat application allowing people to chat securely, share digital media, and make internet calls. The revenue model is based on volume which actually proves the focus on serving the customer and nothing else.

You’ve got to be obsessed about your customer successes if you need to get started on digital. Let the customer’s purpose drive your organization’s strategy and your product strategy, or else you may suffer a painful Kodak moment.

Mentoring on how to build better products

Lots of large and small companies have started to understand the gaps in their customer experience value proposition. They have begun to acquire other companies to fill such holes with the intent of becoming a holistic provider to their current and future customers. However, in most cases, such inorganic bolt-on acquisitions for new capabilities don’t automatically translate into seamless experiences for the end customers and could lead to customers going to competitors. A good way to bypass this is to build organic cross-functional, autonomous teams with technology at the core — leading to the next chapter.

Fill out the survey and see how other’s are up to on customer obsession

Do you like what you read? Ready for the other chapters in this series?

Chapter 1: Getting Started with Digital

Chapter 3: Principle 2 — Cross Functional, Autonomous Teams with Technology at the core

Chapter 4: Principle 3 — Organizational Agility at Scale

Chapter 5: Getting Started: Transformation using Enterprise AI

Do you like what you read? Ready for next chapters?

Feel free to reach back with comments and suggestions.

Polymath: dad, husband, co-founder, strategist, Computer Vision enthusiast, visual thinker and dog lover.

Polymath: dad, husband, co-founder, strategist, Computer Vision enthusiast, visual thinker and dog lover.