“Customers are assets.” Have You Totally Lost Sight of Your Humanity?


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It occurs to me that whilst the words have changed the speakers who speak “Customers are assets.” continue to be gripped by the same old paradigm, the same old way of being-in-the-world. And it occurs to me that one makes little headway in cultivating genuine customer loyalty if one continues to be gripped by this outdated paradigm and the associated way of being-in-the-world. Let’s explore.

What kind of frame of reference would give rise to the statement “Customers are assets”? Think about it, engage with it, and it comes clear that the frame of economics, of trade, is what gives rise to this way of thinking, speaking, and being-in-the-world. It is in the world of the economist and accountant that one speaks of and deals in assets and liabilities. There are fixed assets and current assets. What does one do with assets? Well if you are an economist or accountant you leverage assets, you make assets sweat, you strive to generate a ROI from your assets…

Now please take a moment and think of your life, your personal life, your social life. How often do you talk of your partner as an asset? What about your father or mother? Do you refer to your children as assets? What about your friends do you speak of them as assets? How often do you hear other people, in social situation, speaking of the people in their lives as assets?

Now please tell me why you speak of your customers as assets.

I say that customers are not assets. I say that customers are people. I say that customers are fellow human beings. I say that customers have hopes and dreams. I say that customers have worries and concerns. And I say that it is the emotional bonds that we cultivate between our customers and ourselves that are assets. Why? The principle of reciprocity. Most of us are brought up to live the principle of reciprocity – to return good for good, and bad for bad. Most of us literally have no say in the matter. When people are good to us we feel compelled to be good to them. And if we do not return good for good our self-esteem takes a big hit.

Why is the distinction between “Customers are assets” and “It is the emotional bonds that we cultivate between our customers and ourselves that are assets” matter? Because, it is the very kind of being and showing up in the world that gives rise to the statement “Customers are assets” that gets in the way of cultivating emotional bonds with our customers.

Let me put it bluntly, the relationships that arise out of a context of love/service are vastly different to the relationships that arise out of a context of greed/selfishness/fear. Customers are not assets. Customers are people. And people do not like to be thought of or spoken of as “assets”. No, they crave to be appreciated, validated, trusted, supported, encouraged, helped, included, listened to, treated fairly …. Please notice these words – appreciation, validation, trust, support, encouragement, help, inclusion, listening – do not arise in the language/world of economists and accountants.

If there are any doubts then let me put them to rest. Customers are loyal to you, your business, when you honour/validate that which matters most to them. What is that? Their human dignity. And their need to feel that you genuinely care for them and have their best interests at heart. If this shows up as being unrealistic then I say this to you: I was with friends who have built up a successful business, against the odds, through this very orientation: genuine caring for customers as fellow human beings.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. ….at its core, otherwise all that is created is a commoditized, tactical, rational, functional, one-dimensional (often price-based) affiliation with customers which is constantly at risk. And, as you note, assets which are constantly at risk can hardly be seen as strategic contributors, or partners, for any business.

    Thinking of customers as assets is also kind of missing the point about the shared, mutual holistic benefit of customer relationships. Maybe this concept came from Machiavelli or The Godfather, because mobster gangs will always claim, in chess piece-asset fashion, that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” Certainly, Maz, relationships need to be built on the full human value that is received. I address this as inside-out customer advocacy creation: http://www.customerthink.com/article/inside_out_advocacy_creating_and_sustaining_customer_centricity_and_loyalty


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