It is with a slight sense of trepidation that I start a blog by suggesting that the world’s most venerable strategy house may be thinking too operationally. However, having just read “The CEO Guide to customer experience”, the aim is to make that very argument.

I will start with a pure supposition that, during the past few years, a significant proportion of global CEOs will have stood up in front of investors or staff and uttered the words “We want to put the customer of the heart of our business”. Or possibly: “We want to be truly customer centric”.

These are great sound bites and generally lead to lots of head nodding in agreement.

However, challenge those very same leaders to explain what it really means to “put the customer at the heart” and very few can respond with a coherent answer. Are we talking about the ability for contact centre agents to smile before picking up the phone? Or it is a total revamp of R&D? Or alternatively a cultural change programme that will transform the behaviours of its employees? It is actually all of these plus a thousand other things. For most businesses, truly putting the customer at the heart of the organisation means to fundamental change to the DNA of everything that company does. And that is hard. Really hard.

So why bother? Because if you get it right, your revenues and profits will significantly improve (according to Forrester by 14% more than those that don’t focus on the customer *). More importantly, by understanding what your customers need, and then continually building solutions to fulfil those needs, you will create a far more sustainable business model. In a world where the life expectancy of Fortune 500 company is now 15 years, sustainability is a really important factor**.

And that is where my issue lies with the McKinsey article. CEOs should be learning about how they can strategically deliver sustainable growth by becoming a true customer-led organisation that balances customer obsession with operational excellence and financial rigour. They should not be worrying about the intricacies of moving from touch points to journeys, putting the right measures in place or using behavioural science? These are operational elements of delivering a great customer experience that are more relevant to the Chief Customer Officer, not a CEO. A brilliant customer experience is a key ingredient of building a great customer-led organisation – but it is not the only ingredient.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of great insight in the McKinsey article. However, it reinforces the point that the thinking on this subject remains immature. We all accept that we are living in a new world where customers hold the power. We all agree that businesses need to adapt because of this. However, most of the suggestions about how we adapt are based on operational change. We need to step up a gear. We need to be briefing CEOs on the new, emerging strategic approaches that will drive sustainable growth.

These models and frameworks do exist and are being put into practice. The challenge to McKinsey is to write the briefing that brings these models into mainstream discussions. Ultimately, they should be publishing the CEO briefing that answers the question “what does it mean to put the customer at the heart of everything you do?”.



* Forrester Report “Customer Experience Drives Revenue Growth 2016”

** Professor Richard Foster Yale University

Rob is the founder and MD of Comotion – a growth consultancy that helps companies to build sustainable revenues by reinventing themselves as customer-led businesses. Within Comotion, Rob focuses on developing customer-led strategies, using bespoke frameworks to answer the question “How do we truly put the customer at the heart and centre of the business?” Prior to Comotion, he spent 13 years as an international consultant, working at Board level with major brands across multiple industries in Europe & North America. During this time he delivered major programmes of work in areas such as strategy, M&A, proposition development, innovation and change management.

Article by Rob Millar