Back to what drives us
19. Aug 2020

Customer Centricity – What companies can learn from couple relationships

by Maria Meermeier
Paar, deren Oberkörper durch Vorhang verdeckt ist, sitzt in Fotobox

Customer Centricity in companies works according to mechanisms similar to those of a stable couple relationship. Along the way, as in real life, it is important to enjoy a sense of achievement, gain experience, endure moments of frustration, and learn from them.

One of the key phrases from couples therapy is, "It doesn't really matter who you're with." Most relationship problems have to do primarily with oneself. Therefore, more important than the other person's behavior (and criticism of it) is the ability to reflect on and develop one's own behavior and thinking.

The key is one's own attitude. This is just as true for relationships as it is for companies that claim to be customer centric. The only problem is that no one is born with this knowledge. Both people and companies need a certain maturity, certain levels of experience, to be able to shape relationships competently and for the long term.

Here's what our relationship behavior can teach us about customer centricity:

Would have, could have, should have - life is not a subjunctive.

When companies begin to address customer centricity, it often resembles the schoolyard romances. Both start with a simple "yes-no" question. At school: scribbled on a scrap of paper, slipped in during class, executed by sheepish hand-holding and shy glances.

At companies: Posed in a broad online panel. "Could you imagine buying this product?" As with the schoolyard liaison, users are usually quick with the "yes." After all, one can imagine many things in life. But deciding against the tried-and-true product at the supermarket or for cleaning out the smartphone memory in favor of the new app are tough decisions in everyday life.

Budgets in the millions are still released on the basis of "could you imagine" questions. Real products are produced on this basis, which then fail because of real decisions. After the initial engagement with Customer Centricity, what usually remains is disappointment and the realization that a "yes" on the slip of paper is a possibility, but not a promise.

Trial and Error - Experiences for Relationship Maturity.

Part of the maturity process for many people and companies is a period of trial and error. In real life, this phase likes to be located in the twenties, characterized by non-commitment, adventurousness and moments of disillusionment.

In business, it means a new way of looking at Customer Centricity. For example, innovation workshops are being held to gain real impressions of the target group. This no longer involves just asking some anonymous crowd. People are interviewed on the street about their preferences, habits and motivations.

As promising as this method may seem at first glance, it often fails at the second attempt at the latest due to the realities within the company. When the next product innovation is imminent, time is simply too short, experience values are no longer gained from real users but from the company's own colleagues, and in the end the executive decides according to his or her "gut feeling."

In this context, customer centricity remains stuck at the level of a one-night stand. It may have been fun, but it didn't last long.

Partnership - a relationship at eye level

Many nights and hungover days after the first one-night stand, you realize that this type of "relationship" is exhausting in the long run and takes quite a bit of energy. So in real life, the Tinder account is deleted and the date with whom you've always had the best conversations at the bar anyway is finally seen in daylight.

The following insights are also maturing in companies:

  • To develop good products, you need regular customer feedback.
  • To develop innovative products, you need insights other than those generated by market research studies or pedestrian zone surveys.
  • To retain customers in the long term, you need a deep understanding of their needs along the customer journey.

If the question now arises as to how this can be implemented in practice, I, half consultant, half (self-proclaimed) couples therapist, would give companies the following relationship tips:

Establish routines: Exchange information with customers on a regular basis. And not just at the next market research study or Innovation Week. Enable innovation and product teams to get feedback directly, for example at customer feedback days.

Take off the rose-colored glasses: Start to see the rough edges of your customers and love them for it. What you only see at second glance usually offers the greatest potential for product innovation.

Get involved: Take your time, really get to know your customers. What does their journey really look like? What happens to the left and right of your touchpoints? What tools do they use, what workarounds have they thought of because your product doesn't (yet) offer a feature?

Finally, the most important thing: Be curious and treat your customers as equals. They can't take the entrepreneurial risk off your shoulders, but they can help you as strong partners to minimize this risk as far as possible.

We are happy to receive project inquiries

Maria Meermeier,

Business Partnerin Digital Growth