Anonymous Executives and Customers: Good for Business?


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I often look at the business world and wonder. What are they all about? They spend oodles of money in branding (in simple terms to be recognised by potential Customers, to distinguish themselves in the marketplace). Companies also profess they wish to present a human face. They want to be seen as caring, friendly, and concerned.

Why is it that when the chips are down, they behave like inanimate behemoths with anonymous officers?
Isn’t this a dichotomy? Isn’t this against what they seemingly want to portray?

Try to find responsible executives in a company to tell them what is happening to you as as a Customer or your experiences? (Companies will find you to ask questions, but they do not want you to find their executives). Try finding a telephone number, and if you do, you start to go through corporate watch dogs (receptionists, secretaries, assistants if you can get past the answering systems, those wonderfully inert inventions that corporates love). Companies are in the people business (they comprise of people, even though the voices come across as tinny IVR ones), and they deal with people (read Customers, employees, partners, society).

Why then do they come across as anonymous? (Smaller stores and mom and pop businesses may have a more human face). Is it that it is convenient to do so? Cheaper? Is this because the next quarter results are lurking around the corner? Or is it because they do not care (I do not believe anyone would be that crass)? Or is it that the convenience of the Customer is secondary to the convenience of the company? Or because Customer focus is only a corporate myth, which they try to dispel through brand building? Or is it that the CEO will be crucified to look at Customer ease and corporate accessibility before profits. And is it because the number one thought that comes to them for increasing profit is a cost cutting strategy? Not a Customer strategy to boost profits (can corporates see this? It means creating value, giving a great experience in the shortest possible journey).

But wait, I have something even worse. Most companies talk about a 1 to 1 interaction, they talk about customisation and a Customer segment of one! The fact is for most companies, Customers are anonymous. Many companies have no idea how many Customers they have. The company knows what and how much they sell and through which channel. They can tell you about the profitable products, the profitable segments of Customers. But who are these faceless people? The answer is we do not need to know. How, then will they customise?

Granted this is changing. Social media and big data give them the opportunity to interact with the Customers. It gives them the chance to put a name to some of these people, and to access them, but at the company’s terms. Big data gives some personal information but much of it is still masked through the anonymity of huge unrelated mass of information that companies have to delve into, clarify and make sense of. But they are more comfortable doing this than really knowing Customers.

And what will happen when we go away form a physical retail store to a virtual one? Companies have to ask if Customers want to be anonymous, or if they are offering their personal data, their likes and their dislikes, do they want to be anonymous or do they want to make themselves known? And do they want to deal with anonymous people in companies?

I would suggest a strategy to change. Change will start with the CEO and the CXO’s getting to talk to Customers and get to know them (their needs, their likes and dislikes, what creates value for them. Knowing their names may not be as important), and likewise for other executives. In a digital environment it may be difficult, but the winner will be the companies that try and succeed. Some companies already do this and executive spend one day a week with ‘anonymous’s (a.ka. Customers)

Will you be able to create more value for a known or an anonymous Customer? Will you create more value or less if your people were not anonymous? Or will you destroy Value?

Gautam Mahajan
Gautam Mahajan, President of Customer Value Foundation is the leading global leader in Customer Value Management. Mr Mahajan worked for a Fortune 50 company in the USA for 17 years and had hand-on experience in consulting, training of leaders, professionals, managers and CEOs from numerous MNCs and local conglomerates like Tata, Birla and Godrej groups. He is also the author of widely acclaimed books "Customer Value Investment: Formula for Sustained Business Success" and "Total Customer Value Management: Transforming Business Thinking." He is Founder Editor of the Journal of Creating Value ( and runs the global conference on Creating Value (


  1. Some of this has to do with senior executives’ willingness to digitally interact with employees and customers. About half are involved in some form of social media. However, the real opportunity comes through the dialogue which comes as a result of blogging, and there are very few execs who do a good job with this:

  2. Senior executives are not just available (even getting to their assistants is difficult).
    In B2B large customers are not anonymous. But when you sell pump components or locks, your customers are not known. In fact companies do not know how many customers they have.
    I am just asking should some of these be known, or should they remain anonymous. I am not asking if the customers wish to remain anonymous


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