In top customer-centric firms, everyone is in “Customer Service”


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score_logoThis past week I had the pleasure of keynoting the awards dinner at SCORE in Boston, a conference run by Omega Management Group for the past 12 years. Omega’s NorthFace ScoreBoard Award℠ is the only industry award I’ve seen that is determined exclusively by customers!

While preparing for my speech, it occurred to me that in my 35 years in business, in a wide variety of customer-facing jobs, I had never had a job title that included “customer service.” And yet, I felt a kinship with these service leaders. Why?

I eventually traced it back to the start of my career. In 1978 I joined IBM straight out of college as a Systems Engineer, a technical position in a sales office. My job was to work with customers to understand their business problems and find solutions that would help.

During training, I learned IBM’s three basic beliefs. These beliefs were part of the company’s culture and became part of mine, too.

  1. Respect for the individual
  2. Best possible customer service
  3. Pursuit of excellence

Let’s take a closer look at that second one. Notice that IBM didn’t say “best possible customer service” only applied to those in customer service jobs. Rather, it was a philosophy that it was everyone’s job to serve customers. For example:

  • Developers serve customers by creating solutions to help customers achieve their goals
  • Plant managers serve customers by producing high-quality products that don’t fail
  • Marketing managers serve customers by knowing their communication preferences
  • Sales professionals serve customers by providing insight to solve business problems
  • Call center agents serve customers by resolving problems with speed and empathy

I’ll admit that being “customer-centric” is a fuzzy concept. Maybe it will help to simplify to this:

Customer-centricity is serving customers in a way that also creates business value.

If you think of it that way, then we are all in “customer service.” Don’t let it become just a job to fix problems.


  1. From my TQM consulting days, I recall W. Edwards Deming giving a quote on what I’d describe as the ambassadorial role of employees (inside and outside of the enterprise) in creating and delivering customer value, something like “Everyone in an organization has one of two jobs: serving the customer or serving someone who does.”


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