Becoming a Truly Customer-Focused Organization

February 25, 2019

Customer-focused organization

You’ve likely never seen an organization that doesn’t at least say it focuses on its customers first. They’re the lifeblood of any successful business, and that’s why everyone insists they’re customer-focused.

However, just saying it isn’t enough. A truly customer-focused organization doesn’t just talk about customers’ needs in passing while spending all its organizational resources on maintaining the status quo. Instead, it takes a fundamentally different view of its end-to-end operations—taking a customer-back perspective on how to orchestrate and execute all activities along the customer journey from sales and marketing to supply chain and customer service—even to its internal functions.

Why does the customer want to buy?

Most businesses have set themselves up so that they are good at selling to the customers, but not at truly understanding why the customer wants to buy.

The entire structure of the sales organization and everyone on these teams are focused on understanding the products they sell and the easiest way to push them out to people. The customer’s role is to be the one who hands over money for the product. This often results in a war of attrition, where the target is bombarded until it relents. It’s not a model for great service.

In contrast, a truly customer-focused organization functions almost entirely in reverse of this model: It starts with what the customer needs. Significant emphasis is placed on truly understanding customer needs and how the company is uniquely positioned to address those needs and then adapting products and services to fit the needs on the customer’s own terms.

Sales, marketing, the supply chain—and even typically internal functions like finance—need to work from the customer back to dictate how they should function.

What sets a company apart is that the whole organization works to define who the customer is and how they’re going to be served, and they orient themselves accordingly with this primary purpose.

Successful, customer-focused companies condense this difference into three elements:

  • Every part of the business defines its role in relation to how customers can best be served based on their stated and anticipated needs
  • Every process and interaction is designed to improve customer service
  • Data collection and algorithms are continuously refined to understand customers and their needs, and to evolve processes to further the goal of high-quality customer service

Review your processes to increase customer focus

Thinking about the metrics used to judge a process’s success can help most organizations understand this structural difference a little better. Operational metrics should always keep the customer as the focus—and it can be easy to see if you’re hitting that target when you start thinking from the customer’s perspective.

Customer service call centers, for example, don’t generate revenue for most companies, and they often look at their costs per minute as their core metric. The goal, in that case, is to get off the phone as quickly as possible to minimize the average cost per call. The idea of actually solving customers’ problems on a holistic level is secondary, at best.

Companies that do customer service right figure out how to create an end-to-end view of the product and service segments to see where the issue arises. Then they work to solve each problem so that the customer is pleased. For a call center, the focus no longer is on getting off the phone quickly, but instead on resolving the issue so the customer has a good experience and doesn’t need to call back. That’s also what the customer wants.

In this model, the leader’s job is to orchestrate cross-functional collaboration to keep the customer orientation. Rather than each function being optimized to meet its own objectives and ways of working, the functions are encouraged to work together in an end-to-end model, whereby metrics, processes, and governance drive collaboration across functional silos to meet the customer objectives.

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With collaborative leadership skills, you’ll have the ability to break down silos, energize your team, and bring out the best in employees.

About The Author

Suketu Gandhi is a partner in the digital transformation practice at global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Alanna Klassen Jamjoum is a vice president in the digital transformation practice at A.T. Kearney.


  1. avatar

    […] A top-performing customer service team is a key part of a successful organization. And a great customer service leader recognizes the value of her team, encourages them to share honestly without fear of repercussion, and offers the support and training they need to continually meet customers’ needs. […]

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    […] customer needs almost in a continuous way. Now this starts allowing us to partially anticipate the needs of customers and understand their deeper […]

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