Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Why everyone ignores the customer Serving customer needs sounds like a no-brainer. It helps sellers sell, marketers market, and designers design. Companies make more money, customers are happier, products and services improve. So if this is such a win-win proposition, why have I been so continually frusted when I've tried explaining it to people.

Mark Hurst provides a compelling explanation. When companies make decisions, the represented constituents at the table are the marketers, the engineers, the operations folks etc. The customer does not get a seat at the table. He might be invited in one step removed through a clueless consultant or research firm, but those guys are well aware of who's paying the bills and know what's expected from them. Introducing the customer takes power away from the other parties. Marketers can't market like they want to, engineers can't engineer like they want to, and operations folks can't operate they like they want to. Therefore, introducing the customer is a politically destabalizing act that will be resisted by all the existing, vested interests. Being customer-centric disempowers the different departments in an organization because they now have to focus on customer needs, not their own desires.

Focusing on the customer is, of course, what CEOs are for. Too bad most of them have recently focused on pleasing speculators instead. Now that the bubble has burst, you might see a little more through given to serving customer needs. You can bake customer-centricity into a company from the beginning, and these companies will out-compete anything else on the blocks. Customers still ultimately vote with their dollars, so why not let them into the process earlier. Your shareholders (and customers) will thank you.

(note the similarity between this power dynamic and that of cross-disciplinary university departments below. At least the connection between customer and company is more direct than that between administration and student in your typical university)

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