Is yours a customer-centric company? The CMO Council and SAP recently posed that question to more than 300 senior marketing executives of major corporations. Not surprisingly, 73% of respondents said customer centricity is critical to the success of the business and to their own roles.

Sadly, and equally predictable, was that only 14% said customer centricity is a hallmark of their company, and only 11% said they believe that their customers would agree with that characterization.

In short, the study results echoed those of several major studies in the past few years, which is that most companies claiming to be "customer-centric" aren't.

Peter Drucker famously noted that "the point of a business is to create a customer." That language—"create a customer"—might lead to considering customers as inanimate objects or things. But they aren't vessels serving only as passive repositories for whatever companies want to stuff into them. Customers are active agents in a dynamic business ecosystem.

That's why the new business imperative is to partner with them throughout the product and service lifecycle (not just at the end of it) collaborating with them to co-create, refine, and launch high-impact products and solutions.

But rather than being recognized as the raison d'être of a business, the consumer is too often consigned to a single department—market research—which primarily validates what the company already thinks it knows. And such confinement of consumer insight into a virtual ghetto serves as a drag on growth, hindering businesses from acquiring, delighting, and retaining consumers.

Ironically, it's the specialists typically tasked with representing the consumer's voice—market research and consumer insights groups—who contribute to a consumer-sampled rather than consumer-infused business culture. Some of the problem lies in their own reliance on methods and dogma that are no longer sustainable, but more of it lies in the conventional corporate view of customers as respondents or consumers—not partners.

But companies infused with the voice of the customer—those that systematically design the customer into the company across all functions and divisions, at every phase of the product or service lifecycle—are more agile, responsive, and able to deliver greater shareholder value over the long run.

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image of Julie Wittes Schlack

Julie Wittes Schlack is a founding member and the SVP of innovation and design of online-community-based consultancy C Space. A recipient of the Hopwood Award for fiction, she has been widely published in obscure literary journals. She reviews books for the Boston Globe.

LinkedIn: Julie Schlack

Twitter: @jwschlack