I might summarize the new book Subject to Change: creating great products and services for an uncertain world as a compact and well-packaged appeal to business leaders that focusing an organization on customers and their experience results in competitive advantages of crucial strategic importance.
It would be a mistake to dismiss this as an obvious argument.
A 2005 study cited in the book showed 95% of organizations surveyed claiming to be “customer focused” and 80% claiming delivery of a “superior experience.” Only 8% of their customers agreed!
So the message is needed and every bit of help this book offers is welcome.
The emphasis on developing actionable insight through talking to customers (especially listening and watching) reminds me of two other books I like, and the three of them together make a stronger argument than any one does alone.
Jon Steel’s Truth, Lies & Advertising: The Art of Account Planning is a wonderful read full of great stories. Like Subject to Change, it puts considerable emphasis on the value of research methods such as interviews and ethnography. Steel’s research emphases feeding insight into the development of advertising, but appreciates that the whole customer experience must be considered. Coincidentally, both books are filled with many examples from the authors’ respective San Francisco-based agencies, but all are useful in supporting the argument.
Transitioning with another coincidence, Seth Godin endorsed Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies by Forrester Research analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.
While the first two books emphasize more objective research, Groundswell is about the necessity of moving to conversational participation. In blogs, on YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and elsewhere, customers are talking about products, experiences and companies. Organizations must learn to listen and take part in these conversations, and they must do so across levels and silos to succeed. As you might expect in a book published by Harvard Business Press, there is as much emphasis here on the required organizational change as their is data to justify it.
While any of these books is a great place to start for ways to move to a real customer focus, all three should be required reading at any company hoping to join the 8%, and each cuts across more disciplines than the expertise of it’s authors might imply.