4 companies with relentless customer focus

We just returned from the Leading Edge Forum (LEF) Spring Study Tour in Seattle and San Francisco, where we met with leading companies who are rapidly evolving their businesses to meet the latest customer demands. Directed by a clear purpose, these organisations are seemingly able to evolve their business models, change their operating models, and innovate new and relevant products into the market quickly.

Specifically, we dove deep into Netflix, Amazon, Nordstrom and Microsoft.

Netflix

Whilst being the poster child for digital and one of the most celebrated customers of Amazon Web Services, Netflix did not earn these accolades easily. When formed in 1997, Netflix looked very different. Mailing out DVDs in envelopes was its content distribution method. Netflix had an operating model that was similar to your local post office: an organisation geared to handle high volumes of physical goods and distribute across large geographies.

This is in stark contrast to the technology-driven organisation Netflix is today. Most of its goods are digital. The company’s purpose? “We want to entertain everyone, and make the world smile.”

How do they do that?

Netflix has a core philosophy of people over process. This is described in the Netflix culture:

What is special about Netflix … is how much we:

1. encourage independent decision-making by employees

2. share information openly, broadly, and deliberately

3. are extraordinarily candid with each other

4. keep only our highly effective people

5. avoid rules

These foundations, or First Principles, are very interesting to me, as you don’t see this type of process-less operating model often. So I was keen to compare and contrast with other organisations to see if there were similarities.

Amazon

Amazon’s mission is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company….”

This customer centricity mantra is similar to the Netflix “make everyone smile” purpose. It makes you start with the customer and work back. In fact, one of the more famous Amazon processes is the “working backwards” process.

To support this purpose, Amazon has a set of 14 leadership principles:

  • Customer obsession
  • Ownership
  • Invent and simplify
  • Are right, a lot
  • Learn and be curious
  • Hire and develop the best
  • Insist on high standards
  • Think big
  • Bias for action
  • Frugality
  • Earn trust
  • Dive deep
  • Have backbone; disagree and commit
  • Deliver results

Once more, it feels like a set of principles that are designed to enable people to get on with their work and not guide them via bureaucracy and process.

Nordstrom

Nordstrom’s culture is also about employee empowerment and customer centricity, as stated in this blog post:

Every Nordstrom employee (whether they work on the sales floor or in a support position) is focused on making people feel good, and our culture is centered on creating an environment where our people feel supported and empowered to do just that.

When we heard from Nordstrom on the study tour, it was clear that people at all levels are enabled and empowered to just get on with it. Everyone carried a responsibility but also pride in what they did.

Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella describes the transformation of Microsoft as “how a company rediscovered its soul.” The old purpose of “a computer on every desk and in every home” was outdated, product-focused and not customer-centric. Now the purpose is “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Once again, we see a company putting the customer at the center and working backwards to create solutions that solve fundamental issues. Microsoft has now taken this one step further. When they spoke to us, they described what they are doing with technology to help solve some of Earth’s most important societal issues, whilst doing this in an ethical manner:

Winning in the 21st century

The LEF have a model that we have developed based on years of research and observations of working directly with game-changing organisations, and it has always had the customer/citizen at the center of that model. (See figure.) We are seeing more and more organisations use this First Principle of being customer-centric, in whatever way they describe it, to build a culture and focus and motivate their staff to be the best they can be.

Whilst a quick look at four companies is far from conclusive, it creates an interesting hypothesis that may be the subject of further research and understanding.

What do you think? Do you have examples of organisations that have found success with a customer-centric approach? What about companies that don’t place the customer at the center? Who are they and what can we learn from them?


Glen Robinson is emerging technology director for DXC Technology’s Leading Edge Forum and a DXC Distinguished Engineer. LEF is a global research and thought leadership programme dedicated to helping clients reimagine their organizations and leadership for a tech-driven future. Glen helps technology leaders develop a Matrix mindset, and the ability to understand the impact of technology for both opportunity and threat. @GlenPRobinson

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