All companies talk about focusing on the customer. But why is no one responsible for them?
Companies are establishing New Work and Agile Working more and more vigorously. They want to expand the customer focus of their products and services. But why is no one focusing on the customers?
Companies dealing with the various aspects of agile collaboration and work organization face two major issues: one, New Work, focuses on the way creative thinking and problem-solving in particular are aligned and organized in companies. Here, the focus is on how employees interact with each other and with their superiors. It also addresses issues such as the contemporary design of work: infrastructure, time regulations, location, and organization.
The aim of New Work is to perceive employees as what they really are: mature, autonomous, and self-responsible individuals. They are able to organize themselves, their tasks, and their cooperation with their colleagues.
Agile working, as the second topic area, focuses on the cooperation’s specific organization and orchestration of individual employees in teams, value streams, departments, and entire companies. Plenty of methods and method compilations are associated with this topic.
For example, Scrum, Design Thinking, or SAFe are understood as synonyms for agile work. For this reason, these methods are also erroneously called agile methods — even though methods are always highly stable and rigid constructions. But this is just a side note.
Even though New Work and Agile Working merge and blur as subject areas, the two differ in a number of characteristics. One of them is that agile working comes with inflation of roles and responsibilities.
There is, depending on the method, the role of scrum master, who is supposed to support or even coach self-organizing teams. There is the agile release train engineer, who is supposed to organize the entire groups of teams in a product area of software development. They are also supposed to give them operational orientation.
Also, there are business owners, program owners, and product owners. And that’s not the end of it! Because the traditional roles of hierarchical organization models are still in place: executive, manager or division manager, etc.
The idea and the objective of these (so-called) agile methods and the roles and functions created for them are easily described. They are supposed to develop products or services that can be adapted immediately and incrementally to changes in the competitive situation and consumer behavior. In doing so, the costs and the risk of bad investments should be kept as low as possible.
The focus of the intention, therefore, lies on customers, buyers, or consumers. They purchase the products or services of a company. If we look again at the previous list of widely used roles, not a single one appears in it that represents a customer. The product owner represents the existing and future features of a product. The product manager represents a set of products, and the epic owner represents a set of longer-term requirements for one or more products.
These roles should all put themselves in the customer’s perspective, interacting with them as much as possible. They should identify the requirements that future markets and needs will place on products.
But, isn’t the relation of customer to product or services from the company’s and customer’s point of view an error in thinking? Here’s a little anecdote:
I recently ordered an internet flat rate from a telecommunications company online. I chose a product that met my requirements and needs. But that was not the end of the interaction with the provider. Rather a source of frustration and disappointment that lasted several months.
First, I was asked to select an appointment online for a technician to come to my apartment to activate the connection. This was confirmed to me via email. Two days later, I learned that this appointment could not be kept. The reason given by a service hotline employee was that the date I had selected was only my preference, not an available appointment.
Since the alternative appointment did not work for me, a third appointment had to be arranged. The technician’s visit was delayed by another three weeks. On the day of the scheduled activation, after six hours of waiting, I received a message that the technician would be late and would arrive in the afternoon. In the evening, I received another message that the technician was not showing up at all.
At the same time, I was informed of an alternative date via email, which was another four weeks in the future. Since this also did not suit me for professional reasons, I again made a suitable appointment via the service hotline — another two weeks of waiting time. On the day of the activation, I was naturally prepared for all conceivable and unthinkable surprises.
When a technician suddenly called me on my cell phone number and told me that my line had now been activated, I was stunned,, and frustrated at the same time. He confirmed to me that there was no need for a technical activation on site. And that these days everything worked via remote maintenance anyway.
No matter how good my internet connection works, no matter how low the fees are or how friendly the staff on the service phone was: You can certainly imagine my perception of the company’s customer friendliness or customer-centricity. The product can be as good as it is — if the customer experience is a disaster, the damage is incalculable.
Surely, you can also imagine that I will never ever use this company again. As a customer, I am lost to this provider. But no product owner, business owner, or release train engineer (be able to) take notice.
The thinking error obviously lies in the focus on the economic profitability and competitiveness of the product. Everything has gone right here. The blind spot is the customer experience. And yes, you will say, there is Customer Journey Mapping as an appropriate tool! It makes it possible to depict, analyze, develop and improve the customer experience and the quality of interaction between the client and the company. You’re absolutely right! But what use and what effect does this tool have if there is nobody responsible for it in the role model?
All teams and their contribution are measured in terms of realizing product requirements and product features. So, each employee and each team will only focus on a singular section of the customer experience. No one is looking at the entire lifecycle of the interaction between customer and company across all offerings and services. Especially not in companies that have several hundred or thousand employees involved.
Or has everyone just assumed that product owners or product managers are responsible for this? Stupid thought, if these role owners don’t know about their responsibilities. What if their performance is measured only by the profitability of a product or product group? After all, which role is measured by how positive, satisfied, or sustainable — and not just economically efficient and effective — the overall customer experience turns out to be?
This perspective should take on a role that has been completely overlooked in popular methodologies and method collections: the client experience owner. CEO for short. It is the role’s responsibility to oversee all products and services from all segments and service groups involved in a customer interaction and across the entire lifecycle.
In this context, the individual aspect of a product is less relevant to this role and its responsibility than the overall impact on customers and the market. It arises from the interaction of product use and business process flow. From the CEO’s perspective, the context of a customer journey may then include a product or service that may not objectively meet all profitability metrics.
However, it may be relevant for the interaction with the customer because he or she subjectively values this product and therefore chooses the offer or stays loyal. It is the sum of individual appreciations and positive interaction experiences that are relevant to the CEO.
With this view, the CEO integrates the individual interests and priorities of business owners, product owners, or other stakeholders. They synchronize these so that the economic success and the organization’s ability to change are sustainably challenged and promoted. It is not just about the nitty-gritty of individual products, service features, and individual targets.
The role of the CEO has another positive effect: It makes it easier to develop and establish an organizational structure of departments or value streams that does not safeguard the individual interests and sensitivities of individual divisions. It represents an interdisciplinary view of all business capabilities in the company along with the only perspective that is truly relevant: that of the client.