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This chapter is from the book

Myth 9: Our customers and their needs are unique.

Another common misconception is that customer needs for a given firm, industry, or geography are unique and quite different from those of other firms, industries, or geographies.

Virtually everyone needs responsive service, and easy, timely access to their vendors, irrespective of industry.2 However, the customers of a stock brokerage will place a higher priority on quick and easy access to placing their orders than customers of a locomotive manufacturer. The customers of an accountant will more greatly demand precision than customers of a hair stylist, although it is a need shared by both.

Within an industry, customer segments will tend to have similar needs but different priorities, e.g., financial services where older people value safety over growth and younger ones tend to prefer taking risks in order to attain growth. Both groups need growth and safety, but to attract and retain each of them requires a dramatically different offering by the industry.

Beyond the prioritization or importance weighting differences, we also find that approximately 30 percent or so of the actual customer needs are often unique to a specific industry or customer set. What is important here is:

  • A firm can begin its customer journey and focus on some basic needs that are relatively common to all customers (and which I will share with you in the next chapter).

  • Once the firm can "walk" and provide such basic loyalty-driving needs, it can progress to "run," via market research to determine the 30 percent or so of unique needs and any prioritization differences that may be necessary to attract and retain segments.

  • However, it is dangerous to then assume that when a business model is successful for one customer set that it can be cloned as "our standard set of corporate processes" and will work around the world. It's that 30 percent of variability that can still kill the business.

Global Financial Services: They Love it in Sydney

The VP of business process engineering for a firm in Australia was deservedly proud of the standardized business processes that had been established across their Aussie locations. As a result, he said not only had costs been brought under control, but market share had improved. As we talked, however, he expressed frustration with a new venture they had recently started in Ireland. It seemed that the acquired firm's employees strongly resisted many of the standard processes, and customers were complaining and/or leaving.

What the company had failed to recognize was the 30 percent factor, and that the key wants and needs or priorities of their customers in Australia would not be the same as in Ireland.

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