Customer Centricity Is Out, Customer Obsession Is In

Throwing the term customer-centric around in strategy meetings and marketing materials, unfortunately, does not mean much anymore. Organizations today describe themselves as customer-centric without a second thought; it’s become a default standard as business leaders in every sector acknowledge the importance of the customer experience (CX). And yet, so many companies still neglect listening to their customers and make decisions without customer insights. So, if customer centricity has lost its meaning, what’s differentiating the real CX pioneers? Customer obsession.

Customer obsession is the latest buzzword being used amongst CX enthusiasts who support a strategy that truly elevates CX, going above and beyond in prioritizing the customer. Coined by Forrester, the term is already being adopted by the likes of Salesforce and Zendesk. As the next level up from customer centricity, customer obsession is all about understanding, engaging and empowering the customer in every business decision.

You only need to look to Morrisons to observe the positive business impact of a customer-obsessed strategy. After recently appointed CEO Rami Baitiéh began enacting customer obsession across all decisions, profits skyrocketed and Morrisons experienced its most successful quarter since 2011. According to Forrester, a customer-obsessed approach results in two times higher revenue growth, two times higher profitability growth, and two times higher customer retention. With such a clear positive impact, what’s stopping you from being obsessed with your customers?

Obstacles to customer obsession

While companies may like to be customer-obsessed, they are often distracted from the customer perspective by other business pressures— like competitors. In reality, many business leaders are instead competitor-obsessed, customer-aware; while they understand the value of CX, they choose to prioritize listening to their competitors. Focusing on market share and how they are performing against competitors is a restricted tunnel-vision view of a company’s success and risks missing the big picture and what (or rather who) really matters. Meanwhile, those who are customer-obsessed know they can glean all the market awareness they need from listening to their customers. Jeff Bezos credits Amazon’s success to customer-obsession, “we’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs; and then we work back from there”. If you prioritize the customer, competitors and everything else will fall into place.

The other thing preventing businesses from being customer-obsessed is complacency. Simply adopting the customer-centric label is not enough. Everyone understands that the customer voice is crucial to business, but building a practical strategy around that belief is different. It’s not about just delivering a better CX— the goal is to deliver a CX that is ten times better, or more. What makes an impact to businesses’ bottom line is going that extra mile.

Customer insights guide all customer decisions

To be customer-obsessed, business leaders must talk to their customers regularly to build an in-depth understanding of their needs, opinions, and experiences. For example, at Morrisons, Baitiéh introduced a customer panel to all important meetings. It may sound simple, but by taking the customer perspective as the guiding light when making business decisions, Baitiéh reduced customer complaints from 22,000 to 8,000 per week.

Meanwhile Rob Khazzam, CEO of Float and another advocate for customer obsession, claimed that the first step is always to put yourself in the customers’ shoes to be able to understand what products and services they need. This is something I know well, as it was my time as a designer during which I encountered the challenge of the ‘transformation trap’ firsthand. The transformation trap is when companies waste millions on launching things that customers don’t want because they're working inside-out— investing in R&D and marketing initiatives in a transformation attempt that is misaligned with what will create real-life impact. The frustration of that process prompted me to found TheyDo to solve that exact problem.

Customer journey management systemizes obsession

Customer obsession cannot be done ad hoc. You need systematic and regular customer-insights-backed innovation at scale. That’s where customer journey management enters the picture. Journey management is a practice that forces businesses to keep the customer at the center of every decision – big and small. By combining qualitative and quantitative customer data and feedback, journey management will document, design and iterate customer journeys over time.

Customer journey management aligns all functions of your organization around a shared, collective understanding of the customer.

By ensuring all your employees consistently perform their activities in a customer-obsessed manner, journey management can unlock the relationship between customer-led behavior and business value.

Building your business operations around the customer journey guarantees a customer-obsessed outcome. In fact, for customer-obsessed organizations, their customer journey is their number one product. This is because, in a commoditized market, the experience you offer customers will be what differentiates you from competitors. As put simply by Float’s Khazzam, “there is no business if we don’t serve our customers better than anyone else in the market”.

Standing out from the crowd

With organizations worldwide now claiming to be customer-centric, you need to truly elevate the experience you offer to differentiate your company and unlock business success. This couldn’t be more true in a world that is ever more commoditized. Customer obsession involves listening to the customer at every stage of the business strategy to ensure every decision results in a better service for the customer.


Jochem van der Veer is Co-Founder and CEO of TheyDo, the intuitive journey management platform. A designer by trade, he has nearly a decade’s experience in UX consultancy. Jochem founded TheyDo in 2019 to help businesses truly become customer-centric by organising around the customer journey.