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Here's the truth: you can't know everything, you can't do everything PHOTO: Matthew Clark

If you’re like me, you roll your eyes when you hear someone talk about building a “customer-centric organization.” 

Why? Mainly because many organizations are only taking half-steps towards being truly customer-centric. At the same time, several unprecedented forces are converging to redefine what it even means to be an organization today.

Customer Organizations Give Way to Customer Ecosystems

Businesses of all stripes have invested heavily over the past two decades to increase focus on their customers, but the pace of change in customer demands, competitive pressures and technology innovation are diluting the impact of their investments. Tomorrow’s leaders must rethink their operational and organizational models to compete, differentiate and grow profitably.

What this means is that organizations must look beyond their own four walls and orchestrate an adaptive network of partners to offer the products, services and experiences that customers demand. 

This next phase in organizational transformation is based upon a collaborative ecosystem that is open and interconnected, and exists to serve one purpose — the customer.

An Outside-In Approach to Innovation

We see this in our business — commerce — where innovative retailers and brands are overcoming organizational barriers to embrace change. Some examples: Cole Haan partnering with Uber, Pinterest and ApplePay to control distribution and own the customer experience. Department stores Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and John Lewis reinventing their stores by partnering in unexpected ways with Tesla Motors, Rent the Runway and Kuoni Travel respectively.

Strategic partnerships, including ones between companies traditionally considered competitors and with companies in other industries, are expected to expand to mix products, services and experiences that solve customer problems. At the same time, companies are taking a much more “outside-in” approach when it comes to market insight and innovation. 

This concept is borne out in recent research we did with Accenture, where 59 percent of retailers surveyed cite “market insight or innovation” as the most important stepping stones to becoming network-centric. One senior executive from an apparel retailer said, 

“It is everyone’s responsibility to be aware of trends. There is no central think tank to come up with ideas and research."

Shedding Some Outdated Ideas

Taking a narrow view of the competition and the market, and being just a little bit better is no longer good enough. In fact it can be downright dangerous. Organizations must embrace a comprehensive understanding of the broad marketplace — continuous tracking of customer expectations, tech innovations, competitors and disruptors, including all levels of the organization and all partners.  

This involves having the courage to let go of some outdated ideas:

  1. That your competition is always your enemy 
  2. That good ideas always come from a small group of internal stakeholders
  3. That only certain employees codify how an offering solves a customer’s problem 
  4. That org charts are the best way to set yourself up for success and serve customers

To that last point: The problem with org charts is that they pigeonhole companies into a one-size-fits-all solution that is likely to be out of step with a company’s unique needs. 

Instead, we see leading brands think about what needs to be done, how they will measure it and where decision authority will lie, before defining the roles. Using this method, a job description will get written in the process.

No Company Is an Island

Having great products and services is necessary, of course, but is not nearly sufficient enough to be considered a leading customer-centric organization. Tomorrow’s leading business will acknowledge that they do not have all the capabilities, perspective and expertise required to best serve customers.

Here’s the truth — you can’t know everything and you can’t do everything. The sooner you accept that, and start collaborating with outsiders to deliver complementary capabilities, the faster you will become truly “customer centric.”