That’s All Very Well and Good, But I’ve Got a Business To Run Here


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Some senior executives are in denial. They maintain that they and their companies are customer focused; yet, when it comes to really examining the state of customer relationships or the extent to which they are creating a positive emotional connection with customers, they run rapidly in the opposite direction.

The problem is that Marketing today — and it is the marketing folks who are assumed to be closest to the customer in most firms — is no longer content to deal with great products, priced attractively, and conveniently delivered. They insist instead on dwelling on decidedly fuzzy concepts like quality, value, service and (shudder!) relationships. Many senior managers simply can’t handle it.

On occasion, I’ve met executives who, after listening to me go on and on about the power of customer relationships and the fact that genuine relationships are driven by an emotional connection to the brand, respond with “that’s all very well and good, but I’ve got a business to run here.” The implication is that this soft-and-fuzzy, airy-fairy relationship stuff is fine in theory, but REAL business is all about the financials and driving results to the bottom line.

Typically, these are the same folks who never meet or talk with customers. It astounds me that many senior execs admit to never meeting customers. While many managers eagerly look forward to sitting behind the glass in focus group sessions so they can hear it straight from the customer’s mouth, in some firms it’s like pulling teeth to persuade them to come along. Yet, many of these are firms that pride themselves on being “customer-focused.” They are, I guess, customer-focused, but in a very curious way.

There is lots of talk these days of customer engagement; the latest in a series of fuzzy customer-oriented concepts that have seen management thinking progress from customer service to quality to relationships to experience and now to engagement over the past 20 years. The problem is, it’s all still lip service in many companies. Why can’t we just focus on product quality, on-time delivery and deep-discount pricing, and leave all this emotional stuff to the academics and the HR folks?

The problem is the world has changed and unless a firm has a strategy in place that is truly based on a solid understanding of customers and what it takes for them to become loyal, it will find itself spinning its wheels in search of those elusive monthly financial results that drive executive bonuses, but not long-term corporate growth and profitability.

Therein lies the problem of why some execs have this blinkered view of the world — their take-home pay at the end of the year has precious little to do with how the consumer feels about the company or the brand. I came across a brilliant example, of this wrong-headed thinking last week when I was told of a company that wasn’t getting the kind of results from its customer satisfaction surveys that were needed to drive the maximum level of management bonuses. So, the management group decided that, instead of having their executive rewards based on the two top boxes in the customer survey, they would move to the top three boxes. Problem solved. Customers don’t like us any better, there is no greater customer loyalty, relationships are no stronger, the customer experience is not any more meaningful, but our bonuses are protected. Brilliant!


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