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Technology & Innovation

Ranjay Gulati: Making “Customer-Centric” Mean Something

Harvard Business School Professor Ranjay Gulati doesn’t buy it when businesses today say they are “customer-centric”—because any company will say that they are. “It’s a platitude,” says Gulati. “There’s confusion around what exactly it means to be customer-centric.”

In his Big Think interview, Gulati talks about how businesses can actually get better at caring about their customers. First, they have to have a certain level of awareness. Does the customer like their product? For example, “No lettuce company would have thought with bag salad if all they were asking was, do you like my lettuce? What do you like about my lettuce? How can I make it better for you? Bag salad came by asking a more profound and deeper set of questions,” he says.

The next step is action, though, which is much more difficult than heightened awareness, explains Gulati. Take Best Buy, for example. The store is designed for guys by guys, but it turns out that 55 percent of their customer base is female. Gulati explains: “So, now I got to figure out what women want. Women tend to buy things in clusters, not individually like men do. So, the guy who is in charge of buying and placing televisions, doesn’t necessarily have to, or want to talk to the guy or person who is stocking DVD players. Even though they should be. Or how do I get the digital camera person to talk to the printer person to talk to the accessories person to talk to the software person so we can assemble all of those pieces and say, we have a coordinated plan for this group of customers.”

Gulati also talks about how companies are collaborating in new ways, and what qualities make for a successful collaboration. “You have alliances that do persist and endure over time and they do so because they have a structure that is aligned, the goals are aligned, you have governance in place and you have the behavioral sides in place,” he says. “And it’s the coming together of all of these that allow you to really be an effective collaborator.”


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