Get foxy or get dumped

At Creuna where I work we talk a lot about why firms should become truly customer-centric and improve customer experiences across touch points continuously and holistically. Because “at the end of the day, customers no longer separate marketing from the product – it is the product. They don’t separate marketing from their in-store or online experience – it is the experience. In the era of engagement, marketing is the company,” as McKinsey perfectly puts it. Learn more about the principles of Customer Experience Management in this brilliant video by my colleague Torbjørn.

In order to build and manage these great cross-channel customer experiences you need to put in place the right kinds of processes and technologies, but perhaps above all, you need the right combination of knowledge, skills and mind-sets.

I recently wrote this blog post about why the future largely will belong to generalists – who can see the big picture and connections between seemingly unrelated things – and not so much to specialists, who have been hailed in business for decades, yet often cannot see the forest for the trees in a world with complex, ill-defined and interconnected business challenges.

The classic description of broad knowledge vs. deep knowledge is the saying from an ancient Greek poet that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows only one big thing”. The fox is a generalist and the hedgehog is a specialist. To create and improve great customer experiences I’m convinced one really needs a lot more foxy thinkers than most organisation have today, people who know many things about different business disciplines, different customer needs, and different parts of the organisation.

It’s widely known that to build great customer experiences and become genuinely customer focused you need to tear down organisational silos. Indeed, the companies that succeed are increasingly adept at stimulating coordination and cooperation across silos, and they truly value the skills of generalists that become important when the silos have been weakened. Rather than highly specialised expertise, the most successful firms of the future will require employees to develop two kinds of foxy skills: multi-domain skills (the ability to work with multiple products and services, which requires a deep understanding of customers’ needs) and boundary-spanning skills (the ability to forge connections across internal boundaries). Having good generalists will also increase the value of specialists by connecting the need for  a capability with the correct specialist, as well as enable the development of tailored solutions rather than only standardised products – necessary in a world of increasing commoditisation.

Such generalist capabilities are typically not rewarded or developed in siloed, product-oriented organisations, so it isn’t always easy to find these customer-centric generalists. Nevertheless, I think the companies that will really flourish will invest significant time and resources in developing generalists internally and the culture to incentivise being a generalist. They will also map clear career paths for those who pursue this route and encourage employees to appreciate the role of informal networks across silos where knowledge-sharing can happen naturally.

Bottom line: take the lead to become foxy and you will succeed.

Sources:
All Hail the Generalist”, HBR, 2012
Silo Busting: How to Execute on the Promise of Customer Focus,” HBR, 2007
We’re all marketers now”, McKinsey, 2011
Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”, HBP, 2010

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