People-Centricity or Customer-Centricity?


Share on LinkedIn

India recently witnessed the launch of the Tata Nano-the “people’s” car-The much awaited $2500 car for the common man. Tata Motors Limited is India’s largest automobile company, with revenues of over $USD 7.2 billion.

A car which made it to the TIME most important cars of the century, however, rides on its “people-centricity“-touted as the people’s car…and the understanding that the common man in India wants to move from a two wheeler to a four wheeler…only affording it was a problem…the volume symbolized by the term ‘common man’ in a country like India is obviously a function of the population of the nation!!!! The near stampede , to get a glimpse of the car, that erupted in the Auto-expo where it was showcased is ample reflection of the enthusiasm of the “people”. All these “people” are obviously not in the potential customers category.

The world’s cheapest car, which may yield a transportation revolution, prides itself in being a people-centric endeavour. Some interesting observations-

1. A google search, uses the link to lead to an intrinsically social media driven website for the Tata Nano. Ranging from a Dream Car Configurator (create your dream car and spice it up with features list), options to share your first impression, Contests, Blogs, Forums-it’s all there.

2.Over 12,000 members are already part of the forum(the yet to be made available to the public car made its debut just a fortnight back)….is the volume an indicator of the “people” interested in the product rather than the “customers”? The volume does appear significant in such a duration.

3.The ” Online booking thread” highlighting an increasing demand for the car to be available online garnered 1000+ hits, resulted in a blog post from Subodh Marathe, Head of Marketing Services, Tata Motors…He says-“The option of online car sales is certainly worth exploring and your comments will help us design the right service.” Looks like they are doing the job of listening to the “people”.

The interesting issue here is-The word “people” seems to have more mass appeal than the word “customer”. All the people here cannot be considered to be akin to the word “customer” or can they? How different is the word “Customer” from the word ” People” ? Is Peoplethink a more important dimension than Customerthink ?

Vandana Ahuja, PhD.
Amity Business School
Dr. Vandana Ahuja has over 21 years of experience across the corporate sector and academia. She is the author of the book on Digital Marketing - published by Oxford University Press. She is a Professor with Amity Business School and has several years of research experience across the domains of Digital Marketing, CRM and Social Media Marketing. She is an expert in the usage of Digital and Social Media platforms across diverse industry verticals.


  1. I think that people want to be treated like people, not customers. When we place too much emphasis on customer-centricity rather than people-centricity, we run the risk of seeing our customers as mere numbers and percentages rather than human beings with many of the same needs, wants, and desires as ourselves.

    Ginny Wiedower
    Public Relations
    Writing and Editing
    [email protected]

  2. Vandana

    The Nano is an interesting vehicle. It is clearly aiming to be the Volkswagen (German: the peoples car) of Asia. And at 1 Lakh, it has certainly generated an enormous amount of interest.
    But there are many open questions which remain to be answered:

    • What will it really cost for a sellable model (‘basic models’ are almost never sold in reality), including regional taxes?
    • Is it safe to drive (just think about the ‘unsafe at any speed’ Chery Amulet crash test?
    • What’s it like to drive on typical Indian roads (there are no independent test reports to-date)?
    • How reliable and expensive will the car be in operation
    • How will it be sold (online sales is useless without active dealer support)?
    • How will it be financed (with inter-bank credit scoring still relatively new to India)?
    • How expansive is the dealer sales and service network
    • How will competitors respond?

    The open questions are almost endless.

    The Tata Motors website doesn’t refer to the Nano at all. And the Nano Website you referred to doesn’t have any automotive steak (a very basic car configurator), just marketing sizzle. Despite its (empty) blog, (half empty) forum and competition, it is really a basic Web 1.0 website. But does that matter much? Only 6% of Indians have access to the Internet anyway. Mind you, that is 60 million relatively rich Indians. A very interesting, under-served market. And then there is the rest of Asia.

    I think the Nano will be a huge success. But there are many questions to be answered first. Including most of the marketing, sales and service questions. This is when the customer-centricity of Tata Motors will really be tested.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  3. Vandana,

    You’ve raised an interesting distinction. If companies were really customer-centric they would actually be people centric. They are only customers from the perspective of the company. I am sure that the term evolve to make the contrast with the more traditional product-centric approach. This distinction still need to be made, inspite of the rhertoric.

    However, I do think there is something worth considering in people-centric. People now do research online and often purchase online. In some BtoB situations 75% of the deals are initiated by people when they are ready to buy. That means that traditional sales is having a greatly reduced impact. This raise the question, ‘how do companies influence the purchase decisions of people?” I believe the answer involves social media marketing, that is having a conversation with them about issues that are important to them. And, helping the with the know-how to extract meaningful experience from the product.

    This desire some additional discussion.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  4. Graham,

    The open questions posed by you on the Tata Nano are pertinent and within reason as a critique/consultant.But as ordinary web user I will stick to my observations on the relevant open questions regarding the website.

    It is a fact that greater part of the market for the Tata Nano, will or may not have access to the Internet, but it is a must for any product today to have some online presence.The key differentiator here being that the Tata Nano has reached out to the web user in a way not many Indian product companies do and will endear to power web users,youth or even non Indian markets, if and when open up online booking.

    Agreed that it is aspiring to be social site [ a la Web2.0] with blogs, forums and feedback questionnaires, but the website is remarkably apart from the traditional approach the Tata’s are known for.In my opinion it is necessary for the website to be a marketing sizzle in its current phase as the car is under the manufacturing stage.The potential for the website will actually be realized when the car reaches the end customer.

    In my opinion the website is a bold move by Tata Motors to move away from one way information dissemination website to a website where the voice of the end customer is seen, heard or viewed.In a market space where criticism is not encouraged or heard, Tata Motors seems to be able to answers any questions raised against the Tata Nano.

    Yes!! Tata Motors will need to answer all questions raised , as it seems to be adopting people-centric approach to product delivery, by opening the car and its website to the people.

    Satyaprakash B
    Independent Portal Consultant

  5. G’day Vandana,

    From my perspective, customer-centricity implies some kind of focus on a subset of a market – a market segment. People-centricity, in contrast, implies an ambition to appeal not just to a segment, but to a mass-market.

    And what a great brand-name! Nano is even more miniature than the Mini which came out of British Leyland in 1959. BMW now assembles the brand, which, frankly, is nowhere near the product it used to be. I know because I drove one. They were unreliable rust-buckets, with the most basic of equipment. Mine didn’t even have a heater which made driving in the British winters very unappealing. Oh, happpy days!!
    Francis Buttle

  6. I spend most of my time helping companies build and implement strategies that are joined up across their whole organisation. Over the last year or so there has been a growing trend to take the strategy beyond the company and its employees to parters and customers to make sure that everything fits with them too. This discussion made me think that the one word to describe this collective of employees, partners and customers is “people”. What we are doing is no longer just customer centric its got wider and become people centric. A strategy will work best when all of the people involved find it of value, not just customers.

    Thanks for spurring the thought.

    Malcolm Wicks

  7. Customers are definitely people. However, customers are people from the market, and employees are internal customers. The question is not about who is more important, but how to make both internal and external people happy?

    Daryl Choy, the founder of Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here