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  • John Chambers, PhD

Give the People What They Want -- Customer Journeys are Customer Centricity

Comedian George Jessell made famous the quote, “Give the people what they want...”

The great O’Jays, from the Philadelphia Soul of R&B, sang a song of the same name, but with a more sobering calling, as the piece and lyrics eyed justice and fairness.

When the O’Jays sang, they gave something of enormous value to their record-buying, concert-going customers –- welcomed music and messages of hope.

You could listen to “Give the People What They Want” while you cleaned the house, or tapped the car’s steering wheel on route to market. You could head-nod to the rhythmic “sounds of Philadelphia” while you waited your turn in the salon. Or you could just sit in solitude, contemplate, daydream, over a coffee or drink, letting their harmonies reach inside your own soul.

Sometimes they made you think.

Sometimes, they made you feel.

In their heyday, the O'Jays earned more than a hefty buck. Monetized messages of music are no less valuable, just because we pay for them.

Their tunes accompanied us, their customers, on our journeys. And they still do.

So speaking of a hefty buck, I wish I had one every time I heard a company high-five, “We are customer-centric!” or “We are obsessed with our customer’s needs,” or much more exasperating the other day, in a digitization piece -- “These days more companies are becoming customer focused.”

Huh? This isn’t parody, right?

If this is something new, then what the hell was the company’s focus yesterday?

If this is something new, then for whom were you building product yesterday? To whom were you delivering a service yesterday?

Why are customer journeys some recent epiphany, some sudden realization that customers pay for sincere value?

Perhaps it’s because Digital Transformation has refined the mapping of client journeys and touchpoints. But not to put the kibosh on that, the recognition is as old as civilization.

Of course it’s about your customers’ journeys!

And it always has been, or you wouldn’t have the opportunity now to advertise this fact.

We have customers because they need us. A more critical thought is, why?

As an executive, you understand this. But is every executive championing this value, coaching everyone, instilling the mindset, so that everybody in every corner of the enterprise understands? And believes?

Innovation is first cousin to customer-centricity. It is the pathway to deliver faster and/or safer and/or stronger and/or more empathetically.

Innovation is a culture, not a deliverable.

Newly accelerated processes were the offspring of innumerable ideas that came before. You just saw vaccines delivered to market in about 80-to-90% less time than we are used to. Your firms are evolving foundational and inspirational ideas, leveraging them, and expanding them.

Old ideas beget new ones. And sometimes, the old ideas are assigned glory to someone who also was a benefactor of history. Henry Ford was credited with the automobile assembly line. But he didn’t contrive that from thin air. The idea was spawned by his visits to grain factories and midwestern slaughterhouses, where conveyor belts had been employed for years. His application to cars was an evolutionary step, whose latest manifestation (after a hundred years of leaps and morphs) is now robotic-assembly and learning.

But he didn’t invent the assembly line.

The innovation was embedded in his plants because of customer understanding.

He understood that everybody wanted a car; therefore, cost control was paramount. He put himself in his customers' shoes.

And how better it was to deliver a car cheaply than to innovate in its manufacture, to accelerate the build.

Your teams have got to feel the sense of belonging, recognizing their own accountability for innovation and their responsibility to the end customer. All employees are part of the firm’s value, and part of the customer connection. We innovate as a company to differentiate ourselves.

Innovation sprouts like dandelions far from where their seeds took to the air. They seep like osmosis.

A culture of innovation grows dandelions daily, multiplying in every meeting, Zoom or otherwise. Like Ford and the Model T, your teams innovate so that corporate customers buy the ‘end state’ of your product.

But please understand the nuance. Let's use a cyber security example:

“Acme buys our security services because they don’t want data loss.”


It’s much deeper than that.

Acme buys our security services because without us, disruption will delay their medical devices, which their patients depend upon for their very lives.

Can your teams articulate who your customers are and how they are improved?

Why are we getting paid? Who is paying us and why?

Are on-the-ground professionals in Infrastructure, Governance, Sales, or HR, innovating just as they are in Manufacturing and Development? Is innovation an expectation of all company’s managers?

“We are customer-centric” is almost a throwaway. It’s table stakes, not a differentiator.

We are not unique because “we care about our customers.” Differentiate your value because you demonstrate ‘what’ your customers care about. Understand why they need speed, or security, or brand recognition, or low cost, or a gizmo.

“Because we are giving the people what they want” is not the energizing answer. That is sterile, and cold. And empty.

Why do the people need you? Get to the root of the motivation. Have empathy. Why is anyone trusting this PCI transaction-enabled world to debit their bank accounts?

Why are they spending their hard earned buck?

What do they really want?

The product you build meanders through a supply chain, and distribution chain, and finally is spat out at the end of the line -- some kind of rainbow’s end “pot o’ gold.” It is wanted, because somebody somewhere is going to benefit greatly.

How do they benefit?

Why are they paying?

Why’ do they need?

Does every contributor to the product and service understand the end game, understand the humanistic value?

Or do we say, “Who cares?” I pay the IT Service Desk to make sure our tablets are running, and that’s all they need to know?

Okay; then implicitly innovation and customer empathy are corporate values that are for some, not others?

Being customer-centric goes beyond “giving the people what they want.” It is understanding ‘why’ they want it.

Understand how your customers’ existence or business model operates, and what they are trying to achieve. There’s no greater credibility than when you are speaking your customers’ language, when you can articulate their needs, their operations, their products and services in the chain, and how they depend on you.

The O'Jays (nor did any other band) start with a blank sheet. They embraced what came before and honed their product, their musical delivery and entertainment into new value.

They made us feel better, with tunes that sang in our heads, accompanying our own personal journeys. And not only did they recognize ‘what we wanted,’ but they laced it with added value and reminders of empathy. They helped etch a new chapter in the genre. Their brand of R&B is among the most uplifting, accessible, fun, and motivating music you can hear, wrapped in three-minute packages of tonality.

We were better and happier because we purchased their records, or listened to them on the airwaves.

Your company didn’t start from scratch either. You are taking what came before and changing it, transforming it, delivering capabilities that were borne of yesterdays’ discoveries and foundations because…

People want your product. But they want it from someone who understands them.

Something else was not born yesterday -- the customer-centric enterprise. You earn the buck because you are giving people what they want, and they trust you. They trust you when you 'show them' that you understand them.

Your customers are depending on you to deliver that next miracle, smile, tool, plan...

Don’t just tell them, mimicking every other company, that you are so different because you are passionate about customers’ needs.

Show them how you are passionate. Show them how you know them.

Deliver value-promises that walk their journeys, and their customers’ journeys, as well.

Customer-centricity. It’s not all about us. It's all about ‘them.’

Just as it should be.

Just as it always was.

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