Paying more attention to what our customers really need seems to be significantly important these days. This is generally considered to be one of the main keys to manage the transition into a fully digitized paradigm. Especially so for the traditional banks.

I couldn’t agree more. It is important to understand our customers and perhaps even more so when struggling for successful digital business models. Still, I can’t help to think that this newfound insight could have been applied a long time ago. But the truth is that business development within legacy banks have not primarily derived from a deep understanding of client need. Instead, for the past three decades, silo thinking and lack of competition have turned the banking industry away from customer centricity.

So what does customer centricity really mean in the context of the digital revolution? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.

In articles, blog posts and interviews about how to improve customer experience, I have noticed two very common misunderstandings about how to deal with customer centricity in the paradigm shift:

Misunderstanding 1: More than anything customer centricity is about measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty

No, it isn’t. Obviously it is important to track indicators such as CSI and NPS in order to benchmark the current business model. But this is far from enough and it has in fact no major impact on our ability to adapt to future business conditions.

It’s time to move beyond that and aim for bolder and more imaginative initiatives. I believe we must detect and measure additional and sometimes more complex attributes that better indicate how we serve our customers sufficiently in the future. And while we’re at it: Let’s drop the obsessive focus on NPS.

Misunderstanding 2: We must ask our clients what they want 

Well, again, no we should not. At least not explicitly. Of course we must tap into the fundamental challenges, inducements, dreams and ambitions of our customers. That goes without saying. But to literally ask our clients what they want from us on the far side of a paradigm shift that probably is as groundbreaking as the industrial revolution? Come on! In general, they haven’t got a clue. And how could they?

Still, this explicit approach is but too common. I’ll be the first to admit that I revert to it myself from time to time. Nevertheless, we must try harder and stop treating our customers as crystal balls.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘A faster horse’”, Henry Ford answered when asked whether he conducted any market surveys before launching the Model T. (Yes, it’s a very used example and probably just a myth, but such a great analogy…)

When the combustion engine and the car were introduced in the beginning of the last century, it wasn’t just changing the way we moved ourselves from one point to another. It revolutionized our entire way of living. No one could have anticipated this.

We are facing a similar situation today. The digital revolution will not only provide easier, cheaper and faster ways of doing things we already do. In the fully integrated digital ecosystem all sorts of meta values will occur. Most of these values remain to be discovered and we have no way yet to understand their true impact on our lives. Neither have our clients.

Customer centricity should be a constant obsession to understand our clients better by listening carefully. But the voice of the customer is an illusive one that often times tends to lead us astray. With this in the back of our minds we must start asking the right questions – not only the routine ones. In addition, with more and more customer related data at hand, a great challenge will be how to interpret and analyze the data in order to really understand what to do.

So, to be truly customer centric in the pursuit of future business models, we need to be smarter, better and sharper. We must leverage from our expertise, our intellect and our business experience. But market analysis is as much an art as it is science. Hence we also need to utilize our imagination, our curiosity and our empathy.

If we do our job properly, we will eventually earn a much deeper understanding of our customer’s need – which is a great foundation for success in a fully digitized world.

If we fail, well… We will probably end up with a bunch of slightly faster horses.