Book Review: The Customer Catalyst

by Chris Adlard and Daniel Bausor

We’re always on the lookout for books relevant to our focus on customer experience and insight, particularly ones that are based on a strategy of long-term profitability derived from focusing on the customer.

That strategic focus has been frustratingly rare since the glory days of The Service-Profit Chain and Good to Great etc. Many books about the customer are useful, but take a very tactical view of measuring and improving the customer experience, push a magic bullet solution (the one thing you need to do in order to succeed), or turn out to be playing semantic games to dress old ideas up in new clothing.

The Customer Catalyst promises something more—a proper strategic view of how to run a business with a customer-centric mindset. Does it deliver? Well, you’ll have to wait until the end for our verdict.

The authors examine how to build a business by starting from the Customer Experience and working back from there, focusing each chapter on one of the 10 key elements of what they call a “C-change growth engine”.


…VoC is an essential part of driving transformation in the Customer Economy. It becomes potent when combined with intelligence from other sources such as employees and operational data.

The first element is a Voice of the Customer programme (customer research, in other words)—a subject very dear to our hearts. 27 pages is nowhere near enough to cover such an important subject in detail, but the authors highlight some important issues, such as:

  • The need for continuous feedback

  • The flaws of NPS if it is implemented to tick a box or “chase the score”

  • The need to link VoC data with other data

We would like to see a greater emphasis on research and insight as a tool that enables you to understand customers, rather than simply gathering feedback. Whether it’s analysing data in the correct way, or using qualitative insight effectively, good research requires a layer of thought and interpretation to enable organisations to improve. Gathering the data is not enough.


A customer mission statement that is authentic and translated into meaningful actions for employees is one of the most effective rallying calls for any organisation.

There’s no question that getting the culture right is vital to making a business customer centric in its bones. Adlard and Bausor highlight:

  • The need for cross-functional teams

  • Aligning KPIs to customer health

  • The importance of symbolic actions

  • Trusting employees to make good decisions

The role of the CEO as a communicator, for example “…strong social media profiles with relevant, customer-led views…”

Those are all vital if you want to build a customer-led culture. The authors also suggest, slightly more controversially, that all organisations need a C-level person with responsibility for the customer, often a CCO. They stress that this is in addition to making the entire organisation customer-focused—creating specialist customer-centric roles won’t achieve change in itself.


Companies should never let their own internal ideas, especially around so-called technological innovation, divert them from fully understanding what is happening with their customers.

If the customer experience is your brand now, as Shep Hyken suggests, then it follows that you need to be investing in the experiences you create. Some highlights:

  • Human first, technology second

  • You can’t be perfect, so prioritise the crucial moments

  • The crucial role of customer journey mapping to capture customer & employee views

In terms of practical advice, this is probably the best chapter in the book with some really tangible ideas on how and where to use journey mapping, in particular, to drive improvements in the customer experience. We particularly agree with the power of service blueprints to reveal opportunities for improvement, and the need to get customer and employee input before using journey mapping workshops.


…companies should map out their CX and customer journeys before choosing which technology and platforms to keep, remove and add.

Technology forms a big (and increasing) part of the customer experience for most organisations, but it’s safe to say that it’s not always a positive. The authors, quite rightly, focus on the importance of integration, and of starting with the customer need rather than the technology solution:

  • Integration is more important than new features or functions

  • “Data is the new oil”

  • CRM should be about giving a 360o view of the customer, not a sales pipeline


…real-time personalisation is becoming the norm in digital interactions.

Disruption is coming to many sectors, and much of it consists of new entrants meeting customer needs with new digital offerings. Often the digital experience is the product. The keys to the digital experience:

  • Being simple and frictionless

  • Digital makes it easier to gather behavioural data

  • Realtime personalisation (powered by AI and data)


Customer Success has much in common with other customer-centric philosophies such as Customer Experience, Customer Advocacy and Customer Engagement.

Customer Success is a relatively new term, at least outside of SaaS where it started (see CI Summer 19). Whether it’s really all that new a concept is something to debate, but we agree that it brings a useful focus on:

  • Driving business outcomes for the customer

  • The post-sales customer experience

  • Proactive over reactive service

  • External measures rather than internal measures


Customer Health measurements are objective and data-driven…

Customer Health is another “new technique” which is really just a new term for an old idea—it becomes a lot easier to manage the customer experience if you can get realtime data from across the business which will help you to manage it. This is not an alternative to survey data, but an essential complement to it.

  • Choosing the right measures is crucial

  • Action is more important than metrics

  • You need to combine VoC with Customer Health


Customer Engagement is about creating connections, via multiple channels, between the customer and an organisation.

Engaging with your customers is essential, both to strengthen your relationship and to make sure that you understand their needs. This is especially true in B2B relationships, where finding ways to add value to the relationship can make all the difference to long-term loyalty and value. The book points out:

  • Engagement is about adding value to build trust

  • Segmentation links to your strategy of who to engage

  • You need to see Account Based Marketing as part of a wider strategy of engagement


…organisations that maintain continuous contact with their customers, face-to-face and online, gain a firm grasp of unsatisfied needs which is at the very heart of marketing in the Customer Economy.

Bound up with the idea of engagement is the possibility of co-creating innovation and experience with customers. Effective co-creation requires:

  • A strategic commitment, not just piecemeal project-by-project approach

  • A clear vision

  • Openness with information

  • Constant dialogue with customers


Customer advocates are known and trusted and help drive a higher quality and value of leads, as well as higher conversion rates, in shorter timeframes.

The principal of customer advocacy is simple—if your customers are happy, let them do the selling for you. Every organisation wants advocates, but what can you do to systematically encourage it? The book suggests:

  • Don’t look simply at referrals or references, you want to build storytelling around “mutual business currency”

  • Profile your advocates, and match them to your strategy

  • Make sure your advocates feel valued (not just valuable)

Our verdict

Does The Customer Catalyst deliver on its promise? We found it a little heavy on buzzwords, but once you dig beyond these there is much of value. We certainly agree that many businesses are too focused on internal metrics and behaviours, not enough on the outside-in view, and to focus on shifting businesses into a customer-led strategy is absolutely right.

Each of the ten elements highlighted includes important ideas, and many of these are brought to life with interesting case studies and lessons from practitioners working in companies such as Microsoft, Signifiy, and Starling bank.