“Customer-driven”, “customer-focused”, and “customer-centric” are the sort of terms often bandied around, but often used without much weight. All business consider their customers, for the simple reason that a business that does not do this won’t be in business very long.
Being customer-driven is important, but in reality what most businesses aim for is being market-driven. Customer-driven only considers one dimension — i.e. the customer. Market-driven considers the customer, the business’s competition, and other environmental factors. (Environmental factors are things such as legislation.)
Where I’ve found this interesting is that if you look at Apple, Microsoft, and Google, because they are all very successful businesses they must by definition is market-driven for the simple reason that businesses that aren’t market-driven cannot be successful, yet they don’t often look like they are.
Apple has famously been not customer-driven. Steve Jobs once said “You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new”, and this view that Apple is right, and that the customer lacks sufficient vision permeates their product design. No one asked for a “Walkman 2.0″, yet that’s what the iPod was. No one asked for a tablet computer that was so dumb it could hardly do anything, yet it works profoundly well.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that Apple works to be “where the customer is driving too”, rather than trusting the customers to be out in fornt.
Appe also appears to ignore competition in a way other companies do not. Where is the large screen iPhone aping the high-end Samsung devices? Where are the cheap iPhones and iPad aping the low-end Android devices? There are none. Apple seems to study competitive behaviour and then ignore it completely. That’s because Apple understands that it’s far easier to hoover money out of a new market than to fight for scraps in an existing one.
Perhaps then Apple the exemplar of the most successful business that is not market-driven at all.
Microsoft is hugely customer-driven, despite the eyebrows that will raise should you posit such an idea. The Windows 8 misjudgment notwithstanding, here is a business whose whole success is based on following customers. That famous phenomenon of Microsoft’s whereby “the third product is always the good one” is deliberate. Their internal process and culture is based on sucking in customer feedback and tuning their products. That’s the mechanism that makes that v3 product the one everyone buys.
Similarly, they are profoundly good at understanding competitor behaviour, using understanding of those market factors to drive success, often with considerable aggression.
Finally, what about Google. Google’s entire operation is founded on one thing: relevance. If you approach a Google service, their objective is to put the thing you need top of the list. Google Now is designed to put you thing they need in the “zeroth ordinal” of any list — i.e. presenting it to you before you need it. In this sense, they are the most customer-driven of them all looking to make any interaction about you.
Competition-wise, does Google even have any competition? To me, they are unique, because of their approach. Google leads from way out in front allowing its engineers to produce products that change society. No one else operates like that. Everyone else wants to sell products — those guys want to mess with people’s heads (but in a good way). If they ever did end up with any real competition, I’m not sure how well they’d fare given how they’ve historically operated.