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Customer Strategist Journal
Innovative strategies for building more profitable customer relationships. Published quarterly online and in print.
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Examining Customer-Centric DNA

Customer Centricity versus Customer Experience

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.'
—Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking Glass

If words could really mean anything we wanted them to mean, of course, they would mean nothing at all. And to a certain extent at least, this is always a problem when it comes to business jargon.

But while the terms "customer centricity" and "customer experience" are often treated nearly as synonyms, with meanings similar to other terms such as "customer satisfaction," "customer focus," or "customer service," the fact is that these two terms are quite different. In fact, even without counting the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, we can appreciate that "centricity" and "experience" neatly capture two separate and very important aspects of how a business earns and keeps the trust of its customers.

If customer experience involves the what that customers get, customer centricity is the why that motivates companies to provide the experience.
In their very smart and succinct book, Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, authors Michael Henshaw and Bruce Kasanoff suggest that the experience a customer has with a brand or company can be broken into three basic categories: static, human, and digital. "Static" experiences are all about how the customer encounters, uses, and gets benefit from your products, retail outlets, newsletters and advertisements, packaging, pricing and coupons, and so forth. "Human experiences" happen through "voice to voice" interactions with employees and other representatives of your brand, via meetings with sales reps, phone conversations, interactive chat sessions, and so forth. And "digital" experiences involve how a customer interacts with your website, phone or computer apps, Twitter and social media, sensors, and other electronic channels.

It is no small task to coordinate and manage how all these various customer touchpoints are configured and delivered to different customers in the most personally relevant and value-creating ways. Your internal systems have to connect with each other efficiently and all your customer-facing processes need to be well-designed and flawlessly executed.

But in order to deliver a good customer experience, a company must first be customer-centric. Customer centricity goes to your motive for wanting to deliver good customer experiences in the first place.

The intention, or customer centricity, of the company is proven by the delivery of its customer experience. And it's the customers themselves who judge the success of the connection. The more customer-centric your organization is across the enterprise, within all departments, involving every employee, the more likely your customer experience will be above and beyond the simple transaction.

The symbiotic relationship between customer centricity and customer experience relate to the similar notion of trustability.
There are many definitions of the word "trust" when it comes to business dealings, but "extreme trust" can be summarized in terms of (1) competence, (2) good intentions, and (3) proactivity. In other words, earning the extreme trust of customers requires:

  • Doing things right (competence)
  • Doing the right thing (good intentions)
  • Proactively

But still another way to express these requirements would be to say that earning the extreme trust of customers requires:

  • Delivering a good customer experience (competence)
  • Being customer-centric (good intentions)
  • Doing both without being asked (proactivity)

Our research already shows that being more trustable toward customers increases profitability, so even your CFO will love extreme trust as much as your customers do. Think about it this way: Your customer's experience is the result of what your company does and how proactive you are about doing it, but customer centricity is what's in your company's heart.