Monthly Archives: August 2012

Book Research

Before asking leading questions (and using your answers), I should share that I’ve started a new book exploring the inherent conflict of interest between buyers and sellers and how it should influence customer-centricity and CEM. The working title is “I am Buyer. You Are Seller. That’s the Problem,” and I plan to solicit input using Linkedin, CustomerThink and my blog. If I want to quote someone directly, I’ll ask first.

First leading question: Is designing customer strategies and enabling process to suit “average” customers (customer models) consistent with customer-centricity and CEM – or should sellers be designing “process-on-demand” (term from my Linkedin colleague, Bob Starinsky) that accommodates each customer individually?

Are We Witnessing the “Half-Life” of Customer-Centricity?

The optimist in me says, “Probably not.” The realist in me suspects we are, for several reasons.

-Customers were initially grateful that many companies appeared to be searching for comity. However, buyers now appear to be moving through this phase, which I call “play nice.” Now they’re seeing through the many insincere seller efforts to look and sound more customer-centric and becoming more cynical and mistrustful of sellers than ever. Hence, an increasing percentage is no longer “playing nice.”
-Influenced not only by transacting business over the web but by not seeing the “what’s in it for them” from forming relationships with sellers, many buyers are trying to minimize contact with sellers, preferring efficiency over spending time interacting with sellers.
-The more latitude sellers give buyers to “have it their way,” the more idiosyncratic customer behavior becomes – to the point where finding common approaches to satisfying varied customer preferences is becoming very difficult. “Process-on-demand” (term coined by my colleague Bob Starinsky) is beginning to replace customer best practices.

I’ve gone into much more detail in a new white paper, titled, “After Customer-Centricity Comes…?” http://tinyurl.com/9huk63k

 

Please know in advance that I’ve “trampled over” a number of customer-centricity’s sacred cows, and even more of marketing’s. But please don’t shoot the messenger :-).

Will Customer Change Force Process Change?

My quick answer to my own question is, “It better…and soon.”

Buyer-seller relations are rapidly evolving, putting buyers in the driver’s seat held by sellers for decades. The consequences of “buyer power” include increasingly idiosyncratic customer behavior from customers wanting to do business “their way” and far more customer pushback than previously. To the latter point, the seller defense, “It’s company policy,” has become outright offensive to buyers. Buyers are forcing sellers into case-by-case negotiations, which on the seller side are conducted by empowered company representatives, often newly authorized to make judgment calls resolving customer issues.

From a process perspective, supporting judgment calls and dealing with highly variable customer behavior both call for decision-support process (typically application software enabled) more than work rule-based process. But we’ve yet to see much progress in that direction. It’s hard moving on from highly-honed skills designing process in a more structured and repetitive work environment, but we must.

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).

http://tinyurl.com/c329on8