Everything an : the the of an of customer-centricity in organizations

Bringing Customer Experience to an organization is not a trivial challenge and it is foolish to expect that such an endeavor will happen over night. What are the principles that bring it to life in the first place?

Photo by Seth Godin

Everything undergoes evolution. Economy. Organizations. Professions. Attitudes. A friend told me that if you were in the management boardrooms in the seventies of the XX century you would be shocked to hear a word: customer. The decision makers discussed infrastructure, technology, business but never people who were using their services and products. Today the opposite is the truth. Today majority of companies realize that without outstanding customer experience, they may likely lose the game and become irrelevant. They will be eaten up by the competition that more and more often roots its business strategy in CX.

Three types of companies

There are three types of companies today. Companies that are so convinced about the quality of their product that they firmly believe it will defend itself and no focus on customers is necessary. Some of them operate in such fields as mining or military, where this still may be the truth. Still. Because also in these fields the situation is evolving. A few years back I was talking to a company manufacturing military robots. They have spent years of development and tons of money to build a minefield robot with a arm range longer by 5 cm. It may sound like a little improvement but in the warfare the bigger the range the better the chance for the robot to survive. They went to a military show super proud of their achievement and sure they will be swamped with orders. In the meantime their competition worked equally hard to develop a control device for their robot that was intuitive and easy to use. Guess how it has turned out?

There is a second type of companies such as Netflix, Zappos, Amazon or AirBnB. These companies were created with the ethos of customer-centricity in mind. They have the care for customers in their blood. They understand how it is to design for people to love their products and services. They understand what experience means. And they care to deliver it. In so many ways they are lucky that they don’t have the backwardness in their thinking about their clients. They don’t have to change the company culture to understand why it is so crucial today to focus on customers. They don’t have to alter the status quo as their status quo is to be focused on customers and to deliver experiences. They can just keep going and gain more market.

There is also a third type of companies. And this group is the biggest of these three. These are the companies that exist on the market for the last 30, 20, 10 years. These are the companies where decisions makers are only learning about the value of customer-centricity. They are just now discovering the power of design. They are breaking their heads about turning today’s status quo around. These companies are facing an enormous challenge. They also know that there is no way they will be able to steer clear of that shift. They may postpone it a little, running the risk of eventually becoming irrelevant. But sooner rather than later they will have to figure out how to build unique and engaging experiences. And this is not a small challenge. It is a challenge to change the company culture. To change the old ways. To find a new path for creating products and services that inflict loyalty rather than just remain strictly transational.

The maturity model

About 2006 Jakob Nielsen proposed a model called the UX Maturity Model, which then got re-appropriated and simplified by Renato Feijo. Nielsen noticed that there the different stages of accepting UX in organizations. Although he was talking about UX, this model can be interpreted much broader and pretty much fits the domain of Customer Experience as well (or agile, or inattentiveness for that matter).

UX Maturity Model proposed by Renato Feijó

Nielsen distinguished among eight maturity levels (later brought down to 6 by Feijo). At stage 1, a company is not at all interested in their users. Infrastructure, technology and financial aspects are the key elements discussed by the management boards over there. The assumption is that people will have to use their solutions because they have no other choice so taking care about CX is deemed unimportant. This is the attitude of the seventies that is still present in a surprisingly big number of today’s companies.

Entering stage 2, a company begins to realize that their business can’t be happening in disconnect with their customers. At this stage, people who try to talk about customer-centricity finally are being heard but whatever projects they hope to run are not going to receive much money. This is the moment when many organizations begin to use guerilla research and design methods to show that listening to people brings value. This is a moment to get as many people as possible to get enchanted by the design process and in such a way spread the awareness of that process around. However, the value of paying attention to users remains unnoticed at the higher management levels at that stage.

Once the company finds itself at stage 3, this is the moment when higher management starts talking about customers. They realize that something serious needs to be done in order to build unique market value and that designing experiences might be the answer. This is the moment when everybody starts talking about low hanging fruits and wow effects. More formal programs and projects are often initiated, however, at this stage, the company is like a toddler learning to walk. Often despite best efforts, the progress is small and disconnected. This is the moment when intentions are spot on but the learning process only just begins.

Getting to state 4 means that the awareness of the business value stemming from customer-centricity has reached a boardroom and there is a growing need for CX related measurements to guide the initiatives of the company. But still the depth of knowledge about CX is rather shallow therefore often the simple solutions such as the Net Promoter Score are chosen to encompass the company efforts with respect to building experiences. So, this stage can be deemed as a fair amount of organizational mess when the old ways are constantly getting into a conflict with the new approach. If we stick with the maturing metaphor, this phase can be compared to the teenage times with its lack of emotional stability and inconsistent ways of behavior.

Once at stage 5, the management board truly understands what is the Customer Experience they are hoping to deliver. Decision makers look for their unique experience vision with relevant actionable measurements that guide the efforts of the entire company. Customer-centricity is at this stage, maybe not yet the ultimate goal but one of the crucial and indispensable pillars of how the company conducts business. There are teams researching user needs, designing solutions and measuring impact. And they act in unison rather than compete against each other as it often happens at the lower levels. At this stage that nobody at the company can allow herself to neglect paying attention to including user perspective into their work.

The final stage 6 is a stage when the company deems customer-centricity as the ultimate most important pillar of their business strategy. Everything else is subordinate to that strategic element. The company culture is built around the notion of ultimate CX and every single activity is seen and executed through its lenses. It is the stage where CX and business are one and the same. When creating value for customers equals good business. When money is the ultimate proof that being customer-centric is the optimal long term strategy for today.

Young companies that have had the chance to start building their business strategy with an eye on their customers, are often at stage 5 (like Amazon or booking.com) or sometimes even 6 (such as Apple, Zappos or AirBnB). But the companies that are shifting their focus often struggle between levels 2 to 4. And they have the biggest challenge to face. The challenge to change their culture. To shift the perception of what good business truly means.

How mature are you?

This is the question every customer of mine asks at some point: — how mature am I, you think? Typically they find themselves hoping to be at least at stage 4 and often they are lower. It is not the case of unwillingness to change on their side. It is just a sign that such a strategic shift is really hard. That, despite their best intentions, the progress is slow and difficult. That they require time, help and good measures to be able to move forward.

Results of a UX Maturity in Sweden, 2014

It is not impossible to become customer-centric and there are numerous examples to prove it, like for instance the Norwegian insurance company: Gjensidige, which story is described in the book “Service design for business”. But like with any skill we want to acquire, it requires commitment and effort. And often the biggest problem lays at the management board level.

Again, I am not trying to say that decision makers are not able or not willing to change. But they have many years of experience running their business in a certain manner and it is hard to change the old ways. Especially if the old ways have served them well for so long. It is a dance with fear, where the choice is to either do things like we always did risking that over time the ROI will begin to diminish or to try this new approach with the high risk of making mistakes and landing flat on the face if this new strategy doesn’t deliver the expected outcomes. It is not an easy choice in any respect and good measures are needed to help decision makers through that transition.

Growing customer-centricity is expotential not linear

I have spent 5 years in one company growing the awareness of customer-centricity. Now I am connected with another one for quite a few years already and I can observe the exact same process. It seems to be going as follows: it is not that hard to initiate the first projects. I am not saying, it is easy (in the least) but comparing to the further stages, it is a proverbial piece of cake. If there is enough people who are willing to dare to try a customer-centric approach, projects will happen sooner or later.

Gena Drahun 2015, based on Jakob Nielsen, 2006

However, the more advanced the organization tries to become with respect to customer-centricity, the harder it becomes. There is a number of reasons for that. I have already mentioned one: the natural resistance of the decision makers to change the old ways that used to work for something new, unknown and potentially risky. But there is more obstacles.

First, the typical CX vision is frequently formulated in business or marketing terms and people at the company simply have not clue how it relates to their daily tasks.

Secondly, often the tools that aim to measure progress in customer-centricity are either not very actionable nor very well understood by the employees.

Then, this vision is often not particularly appealing — I am still to see strategic visions on CX that are inspirational and make people want to talk about them at work and outside too. And if the idea of building CX value fails to provide excitement, it is not going to fly.

Finally, there is the problem with the synchronization of the cross-company efforts. Even if everybody tries their best to deliver on the strategy, if they are not able to make the experience consistent, the effect is not going to sufficiently satisfactory to make an expected business impact.

What is then needed? I’ve already been writing about the design vision here. But I would also like to add three basic principles that should help to bring the vision to life.


You can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you are going.


Consistency is the most important ingredient of customer experience.


You can’t execute what you don’t measure.

It is worthwhile to start by addressing these principles. To start with a vision, create actionable measures and build consistency across the company with respect to the type and the quality of experiences you deliver. Sounds simple. But it’s hard as hell. But as the same time it is both possible and profitable. And by following these three principles it doesn’t have to take 40 years to get there.


Everything undergoes an evolution: the the phenomenon of an exponential growth of… was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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