Customer Centricity : In Search of The Common Good - Are You Connected to Your Customer?

Dr Alexander Cassar is the founder of the international PRISM Consulting Group, a specialist stakeholder loyalty firm headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland with operations across Europe. Check out the PRISM website

Best known for his customer loyalty expertise, Dr Cassar is a leading authority on relationship management and its role in business performance improvement. Before starting PRISM he had a successful corporate career, most notably within the IT industry ( NCR Corp ) and financial services ( most recently as VP of a major Private Bank in Switzerland ). He obtained his MBA from Cranfield University and a Doctorate from Henley Management College.

He combines academic excellence with a pragmatic hands-on approach and has helped a number of blue-chip companies attain significant performance improvement through relationship-based methods. In recent years he is a passionate promoter of the concept of stakeholder relationship management, whereby employees, customers, shareholders and other entities are viewed in their correlation. Jointly with US associate Michael Lowenstein he developed the Employee Engagement methodology and the Employee Scorecard, a diagnostic tool to measure employee engagement and motivation.

Disconnected Islands

John Donne once said that no man is an island. I was born on an island. An island in time with the past and the future cut off, with only the present remaining. Existence in the presence gives islands an extreme vividness and uniqueness. Every day is an island, washed by time and space. People too become like islands in such a self-contained environment. Respecting other people’s solitude, not intruding on their shores and standing back makes me feel we are all islands in a common sea. We are all in the last analysis, alone. But how much better it is to realise that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. Naturally, how one hates to think of oneself as alone. How one avoids it. It seems to imply rejection or unpopularity. We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void.

Now think a bit about your customers. Instead of respecting their space you may be choking them with continuous sales literature to which they do not seem to be listening. They look at your sales pitch as being simply there to fill the vacuum. When your sales pitch stops there is no inner music to take its place. Instead, whisper don’t shout to your customers, and try to help them to re-learn to be alone first. It is a difficult lesson to learn in today’s fast moving world. Your customers are human beings first. Individuals like you and me who find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. It is not the island that cuts you from your customers. It is the wilderness in the mind through which one gets lost, and becomes a stranger. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others, let alone your customers’ feelings. Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, we begin to discover.

Today most marketers face a paradox. They instinctively want to give, yet resent giving themselves in small pieces. Is this a conflict or is it an over simplification of the CRM world?  As they do not see the results of their efforts immediately, their creation is not always so visible. The more one gives to their most wanted customers, the more one has to give. In today’s turbulent times, many executives hardly feel indispensable any more; either in the corporate struggle to survive or as the customer’s touch point. No longer fed by a feeling of indispensability, executives are hungry, and not knowing what they are hungry for, they are tempted to fill up the void with endless distractions, and for the most part, to little purpose. Suddenly, the customer is gone.

Every executive should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. How revolutionary that sounds and how impossible to sustain. To many executives such a situation seems quite out of reach. They have no extra advertising budget left, no time left over from the weekly sales calls for a day off, no energy after a day working the phone, for a thirty-minute unit of creative solitude.

Be Present

Is this then an economic problem? I do not think so. If executives were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, most of them feel so unjustified in their demand that they rarely make the attempt. One has only to look at those executives who actually have the economic means or the time and energy for solitude yet do not use it, to realise that the problem is not solely economic. It is more a question of inner convictions than of outer pressures, though, of course, the outer pressures are there and make it more difficult. As far as the search for solitude is concerned, we live in a negative atmosphere as invisible, as all pervasive, and as enervating as the high humidity on a July afternoon on the island I was born. The world today does not understand the need to be alone. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says, I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, this is considered as strange behaviour. I believe these are among the most important times in one’s life, when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer to work out his thoughts; the musician to compose; the saint to pray. But marketers and sales executives need solitude in order to find again the true essence of their relationships with their most wanted customers: that strand which will be the indispensable centre of a whole web of human relationships. Every executive should strive to be the axis within the revolving wheel of relationships and activities.

Solitude alone is not the answer to this. It is an important step toward it, a mechanical aid. The problem is not entirely in finding the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of the daily activities. In fact, the challenge is how to feed the soul. For it is the spirit of executives that is going dry, not the mechanics that is wanting. Mechanically, organisations have gained a lot of CRM expertise in the past decade or so. But these tools are insufficient because executives have not yet learned how to use them. Most CRM projects were not planned that far ahead. They laid down no rules of conduct. For most CRM initiatives it was enough to demand the privileges. The exploration of their use, as in most IT initiatives, was left open to those executives who would follow. And many executives today are still searching. They are aware of their customers’ needs and wants, but still unclear of what will satisfy them.

CRM projects tried to water a field not a garden. Executives threw themselves into such projects without knowing how to feed their customer feelings. Instead of stilling the centre, the axis of the wheel, they add more centrifugal activities to their lives, which tend to throw them off balance. Technology-wise we have gained a lot in the CRM field but from a customer-feeling viewpoint we have, I think, unwittingly lost the sense of the common good.

A Way Forward

The solution is not in the pursuit of technology-driven CRM, which only lead in the end to fragmentation. Executives cannot live perpetually “Zerrissenheit” or in disunion with their customers. By doing so their CRM initiatives will not deliver the promised results. They must encourage the pursuits, which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. It need not be an enormous project. But is should be something of one’s own. In their book “Fish !” the authors emphasise the importance of making somebody’s day by being attentive to one’s individual needs. The point is that what matters are that one be for a time inwardly attentive to both colleagues and customers.

These are pursuits of the common good done in a way aware with eyes open that the customer-centric journey is about earning loyalty one customer at a time. Not done because everyone else is doing it. Revolutionary in fact, because almost every trend and pressure is against this new way of inward living one’s customer feeling.

I cannot live forever on my island. But my clients can take me back to my desk. They will make me think of ways to help them with their most wanted customers. They will remind me that I must try to be alone for part of each year, even a week or a few days. And for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core island quality. They will remind me that unless I keep this quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my clients. They will remind me that my organisation is the axis of a wheel in the midst of its activities, that I must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness in search of the common good and the ultimate survival of the business.

© Copyright Alexander Cassar, 2005

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