The problem with being a customer-centric organization

Kristof De Wulf, CEO of InSites Consulting, argues that the effects of customer-centricity typically don’t endure, leading only to temporary improvements in company performance. SPONSORED CONTENT

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October 13, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Illustration: Stuart Miles via

It’s hard to imagine any AEC firm that would have the audacity to claim it wasn’t client-centric.

But Kristof De Wulf, CEO of InSites Consulting, argues that the effects of customer-centricity typically don’t endure, leading only to temporary improvements in company performance. 

“Customer-centric companies still sustain a kind of parent/child relationship with their customers, regarding them as entities to manipulate rather than a collection of connected and empowered human beings,” he writes in a LinkedIn post

That’s because these companies tend to view customers through the narrow lens of their own products and services. 

“Starting from their own internal expertise, they tend to give too much attention to whatever they are experts at, thus limiting the extent to which customers can help them think ‘out of the box,’” he writes. 

By stating and reinforcing that ‘the customer is always right,’ De Wulf believes these firms run the risk of undermining their employees’ morale, giving them the impression that they can never get it right.

“Customer-activated enterprises are different from customer-centric ones, in a sense that they actively bring customers into the heart of their businesses, potentially at the expense of short-term profitability,” he continues.  

De Wulf says these companies consider all stakeholders to be equal, empowering customers to act as employees and employees to think as customers, having everyone learn from and collaborate with each other. 

“The people who were formerly known as customers have turned into contributors and volunteers, often labeled as ‘prosumers,’ composing a world full of problem solvers who are creating billions of dollars’ worth in value without even being paid for it,” he writes. “Clever organizations understand there are more smart people outside than within their walls, capable of developing products by and for themselves.”

These firms capitalize on customers’ desire, enthusiasm and ability to collaborate and create the necessary conditions for co-design, co-creation and co-ownership. 

“Making the shift to a customer-activated company requires guts, focus and perseverance. It demands a strong leadership culture with board members putting customer needs before profits and showing vulnerability by opening up to the outside world,” he writes.

Read more from LinkedIn.

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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