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Facing the Facts: Are You as Customer-Centric as You Think?

The late Steve Jobs did not have a monopoly on the reality distortion field. The truth is that we all live in one of our own creation. As human beings, we’re self-centered—we see the world through our own eyes, and that experience becomes our truth. But what is true for us might not be true for someone else.

This can be seen in the massive disconnect between how companies see their level of customer centricity compared to how their customers see it.

In a recent American Marketing Association report, here’s how marketers rated their company’s level of customer centricity:

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76% of companies ranked themselves in the top two-fifths (61 and higher). Wow! Companies must be doing a great job of being customer-centric and providing outstanding customer experiences, right?

Not so fast! Customers don’t rank companies nearly as well.

In a July 18, 2016 blog post on Forrester.com, vice president and research director Harley Manning shared some data from their Customer Experience Index, a measurement of how customer-centric companies actually are. In their survey, customers only placed 18% of companies in the top two “Good” and “Excellent” categories.

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It’s quite telling if we look at these results together. The results are definitely illustrative, if perhaps not completely scientific. The AMA report has 10 levels of customer centricity, so we can combine every two levels of marketer rankings and label them using the Forrester terminology, where 0-20 maps to Very Poor, 21-40 to Poor, and so on. When we do that, here’s what we get:

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Why is there such a big disconnect? And more importantly, what do we do about it?

It’s common for individuals to overestimate their abilities or rate their performance higher relative to others. This is referred to as illusory superiority, or the Lake Wobegon effect, which is named after the fictitious town of the same name in Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, where all the children are above average.

Now, you might be thinking, “Right, I get that most companies rank themselves higher than they really are, but our company is different—we really are customer focused.” But if you’re relying only on your gut feeling, that’s illusory superiority at work right there. Stop it. You can’t trust that kind of assessment.

It doesn’t matter how you think you’re doing. It only matters how well your customers think you’re doing. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to customer feedback. If you do, chances are excellent you’ll find you’re not doing as well as you think you are.

In his 2011 best seller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t, author Jim Collins defines one of the key traits that great companies share as being able to face the brutal facts.

When you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts.

Most companies fail to face the reality that their customer experience is not as good (and possibly much worse) than they think it is. As a result, they aren’t able to properly strategize around customer experience or prioritize improvements.

If you’d like to get a better idea of how customer-centric your company is—and what you need to do to improve—you can read about and request our Customer Experience Maturity Assessment tool.

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It’s free, but I can’t promise that it will be painless. Taking such an assessment can be a big wake-up call.

If you find the results disappointing, don’t lose faith! Facing the brutal facts is a necessary step on the path to successful, sustainable improvement, and to really becoming a customer-centric company.

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