Should Executives Think like the Customer?


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Would you be a better executive if you had a little bit of Customer in you?

As executives, do we realise we all started off as Customers. Companies and B schools converted us to Executives, and diminished our ability to think like our Customers. Yet we wonder why executives and companies do not have a Customer focus.

Because company’s and B schools have worked hard to block this to make us (good) executives.

Are we executives, customers or employees? Depends on where you are and what hat you are wearing.

One commonality among all of us, babies, kids, adults, senior citizens, executives, CEO’s: We are all customers or consumers! We all know how it feels to be a customer or a consumer.

All executives are customers of many companies.

We know our expectations as customers, how we experience as customers, and we should therefore be best suited to understand other customers, and more importantly OUR COMPANY’s customers.

So look at how this happens: People are customers; people are trained at school and work to become executives. They are taught to focus on shareholder wealth and company success (profits).

But when they come into their companies and sit at their desks, they forget they are customers.

They become executives! The customer hat is exchanged for the executive hat. Outside the work environment (or when their product or service providers cause them grief), executives revert back to being customers.

And many executives are also employees, but they stop thinking about employees as fellow employees but as executives.

Ask any CEO. He will say customers are important.

Yet his executives focus on the company and its well-being and not on the customers.

Customers have their own feeling, experiences, emotions, choices, likes, predilections, preferences.

Executives and companies have their own set of experiences, strategies, thinking etc. and these are often different from the customers thinking.

Experts keep saying executives do not have the customers’ viewpoint, they have an inside out viewpoint instead of an outside in viewpoint.

They do not think like customers. If they did, they would realise that most of the time (95%-99%) the customer is right. But some companies start with the premise that the customer is not right and they are suspicious. Is he trying to get more? The system is geared that way.

Why, even though executives are Customers?

From Executive Think to Customer Think

B schools must enhance the fact executives are customers (and that executives know how it is to be a customer) and should continue to think like customers, and that the customer comes first. Get rid of hard-nosed company and process driven thinking that B schools and companies teach and drill into students or trainees (who are really customers in their own right), to make them executives and imbibe executive thinking in them.

(When there were no B schools, what happened? People were closer to customers and understood them better)

The corporate and B school courses starts with the company’s (read investors) needs, and how to fulfil them and how to exploit the market and use the customer to reach these goals. B schools do not start with the Customer, building a Customer Strategy and how to satisfy and delight the customers and use these learning s to design products, processes and services to satisfy the customer and derive profit from this for the investor.

The customer focused strategy will tell us we have to add value for employees and society. How do we turn the B school thought process on its head?

Start courses in how to encourage students to think like customers and Create Value.

Let them not forget that they too are Customers, and use this to understand customers better. In addition, encourage them to think like and understand employees; improve their self-esteem, awareness and pro-activeness to create value. (How would I like to be treated as an employee and a customer?)

Correlate customer value creation to company/investor value creation.

Make Value Creation a strategic/business policy type of course, so that executives think of how to create value for customers and employees, partners and society.

Ensure that CEO’s who show a steady and long term increase in shareholder wealth rather than sudden and short term changes are rewarded.

Change the mind-set of to be executives, who are trained to put the company first, to treat company as the boss, not the customer. Such training prevents executives from thinking like customers. They should be re-taught to understand and focus on customers.

Sadly, we say we understand customers when we try to prevent that from happening in our induction and training programs to create executives.

How do we change?

Start with all agreeing customers come first. Otherwise we will continue to ask WHY executives (who are customers) cannot understand Customers.

So Executives (read companies) must

  • Look at the product as a customer
    • Can I understand the features?
    • Can I use the features (for example on a cell phone)?
    • As a customer would I find our software products or apps are trying to control me, my information, my location, my habits etc., or is it invading my privacy?
    • How would I feel if there was a failure in the product?
    • How would I want problems corrected?
    • Is it easy to get problems rectified?
    • How would I want to be contacted? By mail, by phone etc.?
    • Are the people helpful and knowledgeable?
  • Look at the services as a customer
    • The buying process and the sales and other people.
    • How would I but this product (and hence, how would I sell it?)
    • The web information, access, and helpfulness
    • Would I like to deal with MY COMPANY’s call centre
      • Is it fast?
      • Is it irritating?
      • Are call centre people knowledgeable and helpful?
      • Do I have to talk to 3 different people?
      • Do I get call backs?
      • Do I get unnecessary calls (for example, my service call has not occurred, but I am asked if the call was satisfactory)?
      • Do call centre people ask me to call some other number instead of seamlessly connecting me (or do they ask me to check back on things the company should be informing me about?
    • How would I as a customer emotionally feel and connect
  • Think like Customers and learn from them
    • Learn from Customers and Customer support groups
    • Learn from apps that customers put together or use
  • Wear your employee hat to understand and encourage employees to create value

Once we get to this point we will have executives with customer think and empathy, forming an emotional bond with the customers. Short term problem solving will be as important as long term thinking.

Accenture states merely adding customer-centricity to your vision statement isn’t enough. Thinking like your customer is the first challenge, and delivering a positive customer experience is even harder.

Achieving customer-centricity requires rethinking the way business is done. I would add have Executives who do not forget how it feels to be a customer (and employees), and move from executive thinking to customer thinking in their mind set.

I do not think performance will be impacted. It will be enhanced because we will get more loyalty and efficiency will improve because we will make fewer mistakes from the Customer viewpoint and create more value for him/her.

Your comments are welcome!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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. Of course executives should think like customers. In fact, they should never get “too important” to separate themselves so far from the customer. It’s not like they’ve stopped being one. Aren’t you still going to the grocery store? Or looking for maid service? Or on the lookout for a new car? You’re always in the customer situation, so you should remember how your customers feel and actually put yourself through your own sales process incognito to find out if your process is set up right.

    Brad Hodson

  2. Of course, I agree Brad
    The point is that in trying to make people think like executives we destroy the customer thinking to some extent

  3. The challenge is not if company executives should be thinking like a customer. The challenge lies more on how they can constantly think like a customer. You mentioned significant points to be seriously considered. By focusing on the business from the customers’ point of view, executives can unearth a bag full of insights on customers’ perspectives that will help create or change the operations, sales and marketing programs.

  4. The point still remains, how do we roll back years of executive training to make executives wear the executive hat


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