Bulletin: The cognitive dissonance of customer centricity

“Do as I say, not as I do” – John Selden, c. 1654
“Do be do be do” Baloo, 1967


Cognitive dissonance is a very human trait. Few, if any, could claim not to be guilty of it; in the main, we content ourselves with minor inconsistencies of behaviour, which we justify sufficiently to push out of the mind’s eye, forgotten before long. Similar dissonances apply in the working day of the technology writer, analyst or pundit, who invariably and repeatedly stumbles onto topics or framings that would be impossible to keep to, even if they were possible to achieve. 

An obvious example is how technology is going to fix everything, at some point. Take any new or repackaged capability, start writing about it and before long, you will have an article or report that, if one just does what it says, will assure absolute success. That’s fair enough — after all, who wants to read something that says, “Umm, Artificial Intelligence. Well, if you want to do it, it probably won’t work for you, but why not give it a go, you could get lucky?” We have to be reasonably succinct, direct and dare I say it, prescriptive, otherwise we are not really helping, are we?

In general, we hope, we get it right. In my experience, we get it less right when we talk about things we don’t fully understand: how easy it is to miss some vital piece of information, which not only colours, but changes everything. I remember a few years ago, I was writing about a mobile solution for people working on building sites. In the process, I spoke to a couple of construction engineers and was very quickly put right: “You don’t understand,” said one, “Mobile phones are completely banned on site.” “What, completely?” “Yes, completely.”

Some mantras are almost impossible to get wrong, at least on the surface. For example: all enterprise IT should exist to deliver some kind of ‘business value’; the earlier you spot a problem, the easier it is to solve; and, of course, it’s all about the customer. I’m not picking this last one at random, as it has suddenly decided to be a significant element of a report I’m writing. The trouble with it is not that it is wrong (though like all absolutes, including this one, it can never be one hundred per cent true), but that we all know better. 

Right now, the technology industry is at the eye of a storm of its own creation. Back in the day, it existed far apart from people, who would access data via green-screens (and who were given tech-subservient titles, such as data entry clerk, as a result). Today, technology is everywhere, infiltrating most aspects of our daily lives. But while we may be leaving the era of ‘computer says no’, we are a long way from a time when we, as people, call the shots. 

The increasingly frequent examples of backlash against out-and-out data monetisation — as illustrated by California’s decision this week to bring in privacy laws — are symptoms of this. And, or indeed but, the strangest thing is that we all know that we are being held in thrall. All of us, from top CEOs to those living and working at life’s front lines, are aware. We are like the construction workers: we know the rules how we live our lives, and we know when and where technology is failing to deliver. 

Yet, still, we present technology, and business, like it can do no wrong, like it is enough to say that customers are an organisation’s most important asset, or that the customer experience is driving corporate strategy. These statements are not false in themselves, not generally, but they present an incomplete picture: more realistic is that, when we get things right, we find that customer-oriented measures increase. 

This is not some idealistic view, far from it. Rather, it is a the starting point for a hypothesis: if customer-centricity is as important as we make out, it should be possible to put a value on where we have come from, where we are now and where we want to get to with it; equally, we might be able to be more honest about where compromises have to be made, or indeed, what constitutes a blatant abuse of accepted social contracts. 

It may just be the case that ‘delighting the customer’ really is the best way for most organisations to go about their business. If so, we can only make it true by accepting that we are a long way away from such an aspiration. And, what is more, we all know it. 

No articles this week. as I have been deep in said report. More on this soon and in the meantime I hope, instead, you will enjoy some feedback to a budget hotel owner

Thanks for reading, Jon

Bulletin: The cognitive dissonance of customer centricity

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