Sometimes Doing What’s Best for Customers Isn’t Always Going to Make Them Happy


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What does it mean to be a customer-centric company?

That seems to be the question of the week. It started off with one of our subscribers emailing in the question, followed by two reporters wanting my take on this now-popular phrase for their interviews.

If you Google the words customer centric (or centricity), you will find many definitions from different sources that are all very similar. I actually prefer using the term customer-focused over customer-centric. A general definition of a customer-centric or customer-focused organization is one in which everything is centered around the customer. In other words, all decisions that are made, the good ones, bad ones and tough ones, always keep the customer in mind. Discussions about every new system being put into place, every new line of merchandise being developed, every new location that is being planned, every website change – in one word, everything – warrants a discussion about how it will impact the customer. In addition, all employees recognize their role in the customer’s experience, even those employees who never have direct contact with a customer.

A couple of examples will make this point.

After hearing multiple requests from customers, a manufacturer decides to add a new color to a line of merchandise. Why? It’s a reasonable request and won’t cost much to set up for the new color. As a result, the customers are happy because of the extra choice. The company’s decision was made because they knew their customers were asking for it. The company listened and responded. It was obvious that the decision of adding another color would make a positive customer impact. This one was easy.

But, what about a tough decision that a company knows will not be received well by the customer, such as a price increase? Raising prices may not make the customer happy, but what if the company doesn’t take this action? If the price doesn’t go up, in order to continue to sell the same product profitably, something else may have to give. Not raising the price might mean a compromise in quality or service. The choice to raise prices, even knowing the customer will not be happy, may have to be done. Or maybe it’s a decision about something behind the scenes that the customer won’t see, but may still may have a negative impact on the customer, maybe even worse than the customer’s concern over a price increase. But these decisions are always made with the customer in mind, even if we know they are not going to be positively received by the customer.

Customer centricity shouldn’t be a concept that is just bantered around. It should be woven into the very fiber of the organization’s culture. Every employee must be a part of this culture that permeates throughout the organization. The best companies do this. So, if you haven’t already done so, make the decision for your organization to be customer-focused. It will positively impact your customers, your employees and your bottom line.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.


  1. These organizational ‘guns or butter’ product and service decisions occur with much greater frequency than the general public realizes. In the CX research world, there are techniques like max-diff, and formerly conjoint analysis, for helping find the most acceptable-least unacceptable alternative(s).

    When these changes have to take place, the overall objective is still to have the highest customer value perception. This can be done through proactive communication, or silence. I’d suggest that, beecause doing so often requires more than just customer-centricity, being successful at making sometimes ticklish product or service changes needs enterprise stakeholder-centricity.

  2. Great post, Shep!! Happiness is not always the best criterion. Drucker never mentioned “happy customers” as the purpose of an organization. My doctor frequently makes me “unhappy” when she punches and probe and punctures my unhealthy body. But I never for a second doubt her concern for my welfare. My accountant occasionally gives me bad news, my travel agent occasionally raises my fee due to increased travel costs and my laundry has been known to crack a shirt button when upgrading their system. But they all care about my welfare. And they also amaze me from time to time! Customer focus is a lot like spouse focus or friend focus. Happiness is a great goal but loyalty is the ultimate test.

  3. As usual, Michael, great points. Sometimes tough decisions that impact the customer can have a better outcome with transparency and communication.

  4. Hey Chip – Great analogy of the doctor. I hate the probing, punctures, etc. but know it’s the right thing to do. I think you could write an entire book about that. This year Kaleidoscope. Next year Colonoscopy! Okay, I digress – and of course I’m kidding. But your point is spot on. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

  5. Great thoughts Shep! The point that everything warrants a discussion about customer impact is absolutely true (and it’s somewhat astounding that more organizations don’t live by that!).

    As for those times where ‘doing what’s best’ and ‘making customers happy’ seem to be at odds – I remember learning a lesson from the CEO of a small financial institution we were working with during the ’08 recession. He explained that by NOT giving customers loans that would overextend them, they were actually looking out for the customers’ interests. He showed me a pile of correspondence from customers who subsequently thanked them for it.

    “Sure, we could make customers happy in the short term and increase our high-margin loan revenue, but in the long run we end up with highly indebted customers just perceiving us as another blood-sucking bank.”


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