Last week my wife convinced me to watch the 1940s Christmas film "A miracle on 34th street" because she heard it was good. I can't stand Christmas movies and not a big fan of 1940s cinema either (admittedly I know nothing about it). But reluctantly I said yes, because she's usually right, so who am I to argue? Turns out she was right... again - I thoroughly enjoyed it!
In the movie we meet Kris Kringle, who may or may not be Santa. He goes to the city to bring back what is for him the meaning of Christmas - giving with no agenda and being authentic. He believes he's Santa, everyone thinks he's crazy, but we soon discover he may be the sanest of all, as what transpires with his authenticity and giving nature, is a much better and connected situation for all. Renegade psychiatrist R.D. Laing might have described his condition best in one line:
There's a scene when the owner of Macy's department store realises success isn't beating the rival store Gimbels, but changing focus to meet what customers really need. Remember this is 1940s, there's no concept of customer-centric design (as far as I know). Anyway here's that revelation:
It makes perfect sense right? Give customers what they want, they'll like it, tell others about it, and keep coming back. It's so simple. I wonder is it too simple for large organisations that claim to be customer-centric? Don't get me wrong, I've seen profound changes in a lot of be organisations that follow customer-centricity for the better. Things are definitely improving but there's a tendency to be more talk and less walk. There's sometimes a lack of authenticity and Santa would definitely not approve!
For example, when we say we're customer-centric but deceive in our advertising, push higher sales targets on staff, focus on being always one-up on competitors, put budgets over quality and push out sub-optimal products, services or experiences - we're not authentic and we're definitely not customer-centric. This self deception is sure sign of some kind of dysfunction. If we’re not giving customers what they want, but say we are, what are we really trying to do?
Recently I came across research that challenged what I thought on addiction. The study showed how a single rat in a cage chooses drinking cocaine laced water over plain water until it dies. However in an environment with plentiful food, things to do and other rats, the rats aren't interested anymore in cocaine laced water. Rats only go against in-built self-preservation when left isolated and without opportunity to do what they enjoy.
Here’s a short clip that describes it better:
So I wonder are our dysfunctions not about us being broken but more about being in environments where we can't thrive and experience real connection? If we’re like the isolated rats in a cage, we’ll choose whatever quick fix alternative is around and we will “dysfunction” at work or wherever else we feel disconnected.
Being customer-centric means our entire focus is on getting to know people (customers) and helping them. That means being able to connect with people, including those inside our organisations too. When we encourage a culture of cut-throat competition at work, customers take second place. When we can't connect with people we work with, what hope do we have doing it with anyone else? How far can this disconnection go? A recent article about how many top CEOs feel isolated and alone put that in perspective. Seems like it goes all the way to the top where our work cultures aren't serving us well.
It’s difficult for companies to thrive with mixed purposes and people feeling isolated. It makes sense to shift that towards rebuilding connection. We can't candy coat it though, to embrace customer-centricity we'd have to first be real about how disconnected we are and why we can’t give customers what they need and serve these needs well. Telling everyone we care about customers but really don't won't help, it just increases the disconnection.
What struck me most about "A miracle on 34th street" was how it got back to basics on what companies are best at - that is giving. It sounds completely counterintuitive but simply put, what better reason for a company to exist than to give something of value to customers?
Perhaps it feels counterintuitive because it's often presumed price and value are the same thing. At Macy's, products had their price still, were even purchased more than before, but it was the "extra" service not about the products that was key. The value not part of the price was just helping the customer out and with a true spirit of giving. If we want to give, we’d want to begin with connection, so then we know what and how to give. We could learn a thing or two from Santa I'd say!
Is connection and a giving-centric work culture the way to transform organisations to thrive? Would we then drop the lip service about being all about customers and really be all about customers from here - what do you think?
Image credit: Miracle on 34th Street movie, Twentieth Century Fox Corporation, 1947