Any discussion around customers that features sweeping generalisations such as “What our customer needs is…” or “the last thing our customers want is…” is being led by the reality distortion field of averages.
When an organisation refers to their ‘average’ customer, it is almost certainly talking about someone who doesn’t exist. And if a business only addresses ‘average customers’, it is taking a haphazard approach to customer experience – the very opposite of strategy.
If we live by averages, then somewhere in Kansas is a household with 2.58 people in residence. We might also take at face value that ‘millennials’ eat 1.7 sit–down meals every day. And we can nod knowingly that the average age for business travellers in the US is 45.9 years old. Needless to say that without context, these are pretty meaningless facts and next to useless in terms of planning.
Relying on averages means falling for the gamblers fallacy. This phenomenon manifests itself when a hapless punter throws good money after bad in the sure knowledge that eventually things will go the right way, based on a misguided faith in averages, despite no change in approach.
This isn’t too far away from Einstein’s definition of madness – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – yet it is common behaviour in business, year in, year out.
”When you’re surrounded by people who share the same assumptions as you, you start to think that’s reality.” – Emily Levine
Defining reality is a key challenge faced by any business or organisation; the reality of their product, their services… and their customers. Assumptions are too common a source of (dis)information. If internal sources alone are repeatedly consulted and listened to, the definition of reality moves further and further away from the truth. So–called customer–centric initiatives are fuelled by the received wisdom of years that, by now, may be miles off the mark, while more positive outcomes are expected every time.
In the real world the winner of the gambler’s fallacy is usually the house. So who wins in the business equivalent? We can’t be sure, but we’ll speculate that it is any competitor that has mitigated risk, undertaken customer engagement, and built strategy around it.
I’m no country music fan, but I know a good definition of strategy when I hear it. In the words of the song: “Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep”.
Don’t gamble with your customers’ experience, or your business’s success: talk to your customers and clients. Find out what they think, what your business or organisation represents to them. Then calibrate your perception of reality accordingly.