"Must" reading for anyone in the field of technology is a book published in 1991 by Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing the Chasm (HarperBusiness). If you've read it, you probably remember the whole-product concept. The whole product involves anything other than the actual product itself that is needed for a customer to achieve a compelling reason to buy that product. For a technology product that might include installation and debugging services, training and support, additional software, system integration, cables, etc. ­ whatever the customer needs. Thinking about the whole-product concept starts you on the road to thinking about customer centricity, since the focus shifts from the product itself to what the customer wants or needs.

Today the customer wants to be in control. While each of us inherently understands that fact to some extent (since we are all customers), it seems that at an organizational level the companies we work for do not all "get it." We, as organizations, are consumed with business intelligence, where customers are demanding that we provide customer intelligence.

Customers want access to information about everything they do with a company ­ all accounts, transactions, orders, requests they have made, etc. They want to do business with companies that are looking out for the customer's best interests ­ not the company's best interests. When the company provides only product-level information, it seems self-serving, as if we are treating the customer as "just another sale." To demonstrate that we are acting on the customer's behalf, companies need to integrate and provide access to information at a customer level. To organizations that have been predominantly product centric in their information gathering and delivery, this represents a significant shift in strategy.

Customers already give us an amazing amount of information. We just have not been "thinking like a customer" when giving them access to that information. In fact, if customers were sure the company was acting in their best interests, they would be willing to provide even more information about themselves, their buying preferences, even their relationships with our competitors. They would be willing to give more information to get more information themselves.

Perhaps we need a corollary to the whole-product concept, called the whole-customer concept. The whole-customer concept includes whatever information, products and services are necessary to enable our companies to act in the customer's best interest, rather than our own. This concept obviously involves a measure of trust. The customer gives us more information about them, trusting us to give them choices that are appropriate to their situations and are not obvious hard- sells for only our products. Our organizations trust that by giving customers options appropriate to them and their individual situations (some of which may actually be with competitor organizations), customers will give us more business in the long run and will remain loyal to our companies.

Part of achieving the whole-customer concept depends on us thinking as hard about customer intelligence as business intelligence. Yes, business intelligence is still critical to our success, and we can't stop providing the tools and information to enable our business partners to manage their business functions. But we also need to provide the tools and information to enable our customers to make choices in managing their own affairs.

An example of the whole-customer concept in the financial services industry is providing information, with the customer's help, about their entire financial picture including assets and liabilities held with different institutions. An organization that provides this holistic view, along with a mechanism for providing advice based on different life events (for example, retiring early, providing education assistance for their children), gives the customers what they need to truly manage their individual situations.

What would be the best way to finance the purchase of a new car, based on my particular financial situation? A product-centric organization would answer with the best rates on a car loan and what payments the customer might expect. A customer-centric organization would respond by showing the customer what their net worth would be if: 1) they got a car loan at going rates, 2) they got a home equity loan (which involves the benefit of having loan interest be tax-deductible), 3) they liquidated some of their existing mutual funds, or 4) they borrowed on margin to fund the purchase. The customer has a compelling reason to give more of their financial assets to the organization that is customer centric. Business intelligence is enhanced, but customer intelligence is paramount. By the way, tools that provide customer intelligence are now emerging. One that provides the financial advice noted here is called NetDecide (see www.netdecide.com).

Our organizations can't just talk customer centricity. They need to act customer centric. Businesses that will win in the customer race will show that they can concentrate on the customer, the whole customer and nothing but the customer.

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