One of the first Wharton School Press books I read was Peter Fader’s Customer Centricity. The marketing professor defines customer centricity as “a strategy to fundamentally align a company’s products and services with the wants and needs of its most valuable customers.” Fader outlines how to develop this strategy so that you focus on the right customers who will give you a strategic advantage.

Since then, I have reflected on how the principles of customer centricity apply in other areas where success depends on building strong relationships. I took a similar thought journey when I applied the principles from The Ostrich Paradox to hiring. The central idea that you spend your time and energy on the areas that will bring the most return has broad applicability. Consider how the four keys to Fader’s book — recognize your customers’ differences, put a value on individual customers, let that value guide how much time you spend keeping and acquiring customers, and repeat — could be applied when you start a new job.

1. To solidify the reputation you began building during the interview process, you need early wins. How do you find them and who will help you achieve them? Take some time to recognize how the challenges you inherited differ and how your team, peers, and boss talk about them. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a productive change you can make with your new team?
  • How do your peers talk about your predecessor?
  • Does your supervisor have a pain point that you can remove?

2. Focus your long-term energy on what will generate the most lasting value.

  • Categorize the challenges you and your team face as short, medium, and long-term. In other words, in the customer centricity context, how would you quantify them?
  • What issues, which may seem pressing because of the “noise” they generate or because they are evergreen, should be ignored at least in the short-term?

3. As you place a value on challenges, you will gain valuable insight into how you should resolve those that currently exist and new ones you might see.

  • How much time and energy should you spend to resolve an established problem?
  • How much time and energy should you spend to resolve a new one you’ve identified that wasn’t previously recognized?

4. Once you’ve achieved your early wins, repeat the process.

  • Should any of the previously assigned values be changed?
  • Which known and unknown challenges should you focus on now?

What I like most about Fader’s guidance is that it reminds us that we control our own path forward. Not all customers are the same, so companies should choose which ones to focus on. Likewise, not all challenges we face as managers are the same. When I start a new job, I don’t have to live with the issues I inherited. I can organize and structure a framework that will leverage my time for maximum benefit.


Katherine Primus is executive director of communications and donor relations for Wharton External Affairs.