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Real Words or Buzzwords?: Customer Centric

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This is the third article in the award-winning “Real Words or Buzzwords?” series about how real words become empty words and stifle technology progress, also published on

By Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III

For an integrator, customer centricity means understanding the customers’ jobs and companies well enough to know how to add value to the manufactured items that are available from multiple sources.

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  • Customer centric, which is not a new phrase, seems to be experiencing a recent surge in popularity. To me it seemed like an odd term at first, because you can’t make a sale without a customer. The buying and selling of products and services requires a customer. So, aren’t businesses customer centric by their nature? After all, the term customer service starts with the word “customer”.The basic purpose of this column is not simply to provide definitions. It’s a two-fold purpose. First, to show how a word or phrase that actually means something has gained popularity in a way that results in its meaning becoming lost or replaced by a useless concept, so that we don’t get tripped up by its use. Second, since many terms have multiple valid definitions, to find out which definition is the one that we can and should apply in the security industry, to advance the causes of our companies in helping customers reduce security risks to acceptable levels, at an acceptable cost—and provided added business value when that’s possible using advanced technologies.

    Customer Friendly Does Not Mean Customer Centric

    There are many books and articles that equate being customer friendly or being customer-focused with being customer centric. Then why the new term? Peter Fader, renowned professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and award-winning teacher and author, wrote the book Customer Centricity for Wharton Press, and he provides some answers. Although being customer friendly is part of being customer centric, it is by no means the whole story.

    Data-Driven Customer Centricity

    The recent rise in the use of the term customer centric is related to how large companies are using big data technologies to get in-depth customer insights to know which customers are of the greatest dollar value to their companies, and then serve those customers based upon their individual needs and preferences.

    Basically, cloud computing and big data analytics helps firms with large customer bases sell products and services directly to individual customers based upon insights about each individual customer. It’s not about serving customers as a group or a collection of customer types. Before the advent of cloud-based analytics and massive cloud-based data storage capabilities, this wasn’t possible.

    Fader says most companies that we think of as being customer centric, are really product centric. Despite how much they pamper their customers, they pamper them all in the same way. It’s part of their branding, and it gets equated with their product or service. Not all customers are created equal, and therefore they shouldn’t be treated equally the same.

    You treat each customer differently by the information you collect about that customer’s specific needs and preferences, as well as by their value to your business. For example, Amazon, who has over 244 million customers and using its powerful cloud-based business systems, does an outstanding job of communicating one-on-one to its customers based upon individual customer-specific data. This is all well and good for Amazon, but how does this relate to a small security integrator, or the branch office of a large integrator?

    Security Industry Customer Centricity

    The problems here are the use of the word data, which most people relate to computer systems, instead of the word knowledge, and the use of terms like data-driven insight, instead of, for example, customer-specific knowledge.

    For an integrator, customer centricity means understanding your customers’ jobs and companies well enough to know how to add value to the manufactured items that are available from multiple sources. This gets to the heart of the value that managed service providers provide to their customers via subscription-based services. It means understanding the technologies you provide well enough to know how to deploy them fully and correctly for each specific customer. You don’t need computer data systems to do this.

    Customer Centricity is Not New

    Although seemingly rare in the security industry these days, Ray and Hank Henry practiced this level of customer service when they founded Henry Bros. Electronics (HBE) back in 1950. It became part of the Henry Bros. business culture, and the company grew and eventually merged with Kratos Defense & Security Solutions about six years ago. Emil Marone was HBE’s Chief Technology Officer when an HBE customer, a sergeant in the Port Authority Police in NYC, raved to me about the communications and video systems that Emil Henry Bros. installed for the PATH train system. Three different police officers—system users—all raved to me specifically about Jim Henry (HBE’s then-president) and Emil because of how well they understood the job that the officers had to do each day.

    I wrote an article about that story, and since then learned even more about what being customer centric meant to HBE’s people.

    $300 Solution Beats $28,000 Technology

    One day an HBE customer called Emil to discuss the problem of night intruders onto their property. The intruders would dress in black, and could not easily be seen against the black asphalt and dark grounds of the perimeter under the existing lighting. They were considering a new video camera system they saw at a trade show, one that could “see in the dark” so that security officers could catch the activity on the video monitors. The new threat they were facing was nighttime theft of expensive equipment from the company service trucks.

    Right away Emil, knowing the customer and their facility operations, recognized that infrared video cameras would not fully address the risks. Responding police or security officers on patrol would still not be able to see the intruders when in the parking area, even though the cameras could.

    Emil suggested that the customer simply paint the parking lot grounds white along the perimeter fencing. Intruders dressed in black would be clearly visible. Even in white clothes they would still create obvious shadows under the existing lighting. He suggested a small amount of increased outdoor lighting. It was an under-$300 solution and was implemented immediately with complete success. The thefts stopped. This approach also guaranteed that security foot patrols, police responding to an incident, and staff watching the cameras could see what they needed to see.

    The referral business value of having such a thoroughly-satisfied customer was worth many times over the value of that one potential sale, and kept HBE from creating a new security risk at the customer site.

    The Most Important Requirement of Managed Services

    Just two days ago, the Sr. Manager of Global Safety & Security for a multi-billion-dollar global technology firm wrote me a note to say, “Integrators need to figure out how to add value in the ‘as a service’ paradigm. More and more security platforms will have ‘as-a-service’ and cloud components.” His concern was that if the integrators are just selling and installing systems that have lots of new capabilities, his company may not achieve the potential benefits and risk reduction that the newer technologies are intended to provide. This is why it is vitally important for service providers to adopt a customer centric mind-set as defined above, and for customers (security practitioners) to seek out such service providers.

    Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities ( He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is a Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (SEC) and an active member of the ASIS International member councils for Physical Security and IT Security.