The MBA of Customer Love


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Personally, I mostly tend to respect MBAs when they enter a business. There are dangerous elements to what we teach MBAs, yes — it’s possible to create a culture where everyone is trying to “make the quarter,” and that’s not necessarily the best recipe for long-term growth — but in general, MBAs are smart, capable people.

Here’s the issue, however: MBAs are still taught via older business models, for the most part. We have documented research everywhere that customer experience is more valuable than the perceived financial number attached to your brand, but many schools are still teaching power branding and old-school sales funnels. Those are good concepts to root yourself in, but … it’s not the reality of modern business, in all honesty.

Now, there are graduate-level business programs in CX, such as this one. That is true, and in coming years, we’ll start to see even more. But more can be done.

Years ago, I was kicking around the idea of writing a book called The MBA of Customer Love. That book eventually evolved into I Love You More Than My Dog.

I went back and dug out my proposal for The MBA of Customer Love. Some parts were very interesting (if I do say so myself), so I wanted to turn it into a blog post.

The Basic Idea Behind The MBA of Customer Love

The MBA of Customer Love cuts through the muck of the stacks of reports and materials and lays it out simply for readers.  It says “Start with these 10 actions, and then we’ll talk about your commitment to customers.”  If you can’t do these, you’re not really serious.  You’re just talking up a storm.

Getting these actions right is the cornerstone of building sustainable corporate growth. This is not the kind of growth harvested through acquisition and marketing campaigns.  Beloved companies nurture organic customer growth through developing zealot customers who come back for more and who recommend their organization to everyone they know.  

Think this is about “soft” skills that pale with reaching sales goals? There is nothing “soft” about the results these actions deliver.  Rapid growth, emotionally captive brand zealots, outrageous customer advocacy and referrals, and sustainability even during market down turns are the common denominators of beloved companies.  

The core message of The MBA of Customer Love – what specific actions comprise the hard work to become a beloved company with devoted customers- will be indispensable reading for the entire business community and will appeal to anyone with interest in the customer experience.  This includes top management all the way to those who regularly interact with customers.  This book, unlike others of this genre, provides both the inspiration and the realistic formula and tactical, real-world actions to achieve beloved status inside businesses of all sizes and in all industries.  

So, what are the ten ideas?

The MBA of Customer Love Central Tenets

  1. Eliminate the customer obstacle course.  If you asked customers they’d say that the obstacle course for figuring out who to talk to and how and when to get service is over-complicated, conflicting and just plain out of whack.  We have forced customers to try to figure out our organization charts in order to do business with us.  Instead of seamlessly executing a customer interaction of, let’s say placing their first order from start to finish, we deliver discontinuity in the experience where the organizational breaks exist.  Sales sells the product, but Operations is not given the specifics of what the customer needs so what is delivered is a little off.  Who does the customer call?   Sales? Operations?  Customer service?   It is in these hand-offs that customer failures occur, in this customer Bermuda triangle that we’ve created.  Simplify the roadmap for customers.  Make it clear for them how they can do business with you in a way that’s actually beneficial to them.  
  2. Stop customer hot potato.  He who speaks to the customer first should “own” the customer.  There’s nothing worse that sends a signal of disrespect faster than an impatient person on the other end of the line trying to pass a customer off to “someone who can better help you with your problem.”  Yeah, right.   
  3. Give customers a choice.  Do not bind your customer into the fake choice of letting them “opt out” of something.  Let them know up front that they can decide to get emails, offers or whatever from you and give them the choice.  You may initially build a bigger mailing list by binding customers in with the opt-out policy, but I don’t think it’s something your mom would teach you about respect.  
  4. De-silo your website.  Our websites are often the cobbled together parts created separately by each company division.   The terminology is different from area to area, as are the menu structures and logic for getting around the site.  What’s accessible online is frequently inconsistent, as is the contact information provided.  Even appearance may vary as strong silos create their own “look” which extends into their section of the website.  Depending on what link is clicked, customers feel like they’re entering entirely different companies.  Figure out collectively what the message is, what the vitals are that you need from customers and how you will serve them via your website and work to deliver an on-purpose brand experience.  Otherwise you’ll continue to deliver the defaulted brand experience that’s the amalgamation of the site your customers are traversing right now.
  5. Consolidate phone numbers.  Even in this advanced age of telephony companies still have a labyrinth of numbers customers need to navigate to talk to someone.  All of these grew out of the separate operations deciding on their own that they needed a number to “serve” their customers.  Get people together to skinny-down this list and then let customers know about it.  There’s no big red button to push to make this happen.  It requires the gnarly hard work of collaborating and collective decision making – but get it done already! Customers are fed up.
  6. FIX (really) the top ten issues bugging customers.  We have created a kind of hysterical customer feedback muscle in the marketplace by over-surveying our customers and asking (ever so thoughtfully) “how can we improve?”  Customers have told us what to do and we haven’t moved on the information.  You can probably recite the biggest issues right now.  Do something about it.  Customers read the lack of action as lack of caring and certainly lack of respect.  We all over-brain what the customer effort should be.  Start by striking these top ten things from your corporate wide to-do list.  
  7. Help the front line to listen.  The frontline has been programmed to get a certain output.  Sometimes this means closing the call within a time frame, often it includes some kind of up-sell or cross-sell goal.  It may be to meet with a quota of customers in a certain time period.  Because we’ve programmed the frontline, there’s a predetermined flow of the conversation that makes it one-sided to the company’s advantage.  Yet, this is what we’ve done.  We’ve robotized our frontline to the customer all over the world.  Let them be human, give them the skills for listening and understanding and help the frontline deliver to the customer based on their needs.  Talk about respect.  It is not a myth that if you can solve a customer problem successfully you have built a more profitable customer.  Crunch those numbers – maybe it will help you to make your case for the resources, investment and commitment required.
  8. Deliver what you promise.   There is a growing case of corporate memory loss that annoys and aggravates customers every day.  A customer calls in a product return and is promised a mailing label that never arrives.  An appointment is made for home repair and the workman shows up without the right parts.  A promise is made for exceptional extended warranty service, yet the process is sloppy and unwieldy.  The customer has to strong-arm his/her way through the corporate maize just to get basic things accomplished.  They’re exhausted from the wrestling match, they’re annoyed and they’re telling everyone they know.  And, oh, by the way, when they get the chance they’re walking.
  9. When you make a mistake – right the wrong.  If you’ve got egg on your face, for whatever the reason, admit it.  Then right the wrong.  There’s nothing more grossly frustrating to customers than a company who does something wrong then is either clueless about what they did or won’t admit that they faltered.
  10. Work to believe.  Very little shreds of respect remain, if any, after we’ve put customers through the third degree that many experience when they encounter a glitch in our products and services and actually need to return a product, put in a claim or use the warranty service.  As tempting as it is to debate customers to uphold a policy to the letter of the law, suspend the cynicism and work to believe your customers.   Most are going to honestly relay what is happening to them with your product and service.  And because of all the ‘ifs, ands, and buts’ in our policies we’ve conditioned customers to come in with their dukes up when they have a problem.  With good reason.  We’ve programmed our frontline to be cynical of customers through the creation of policies that protect the corporation from the lack of judgment of the minority.  Work to eliminate the question of doubt about your customers’ integrity.   It will do wonders for the attitude and actions that your frontline brings to their interactions with customers.  

Why do these ideas from The MBA of Customer Love matter today?

The outcome of our inability to work together is the gift we give our customers.  We force our customers into navigating our organization charts just to get what they need from us.  The end result of their experience is usually not planned.  It’s the defaulted experience that comes from the customer receiving the individually planned and executed tactics and actions of each separate area of our companies.  These come together in a seemingly dim-witted chain of events that has the customer thinking; “Do they talk to each other,”: “What are they thinking,” and “Why do I have to take this anymore?”  Customers vote with their feet and decide if they will stay or leave based on their perception of how much we value them and how we treat them.  And more are leaving every day just because of our inability to do the basic blocking and tackling of delivering our products and services to them.  

Any additional thoughts on customer love?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. The post is absolutely spot-on, and it represents the sea change – on the job and in academia – around focus on stakeholder emotions and memory. Value is largely about trust and respect, and creating a proactive, inclusive experience. Further, creating and sustaining value goes well beyond numbers and modeling, to the heart of enterprise cultural DNA. All of the elements of value delivery, including brand image and perception, have a strong, subconscious emotional subtext.

    You know how positive I am about the ideas and concepts in I Love You More Than My Dog. All of this, as you say, is about “becoming a beloved company with devoted customers.” Too many companies haven’t the will, insight, or strategic discipline to achieve this positive, and highly profitable result. No skill, or execution, in creating this kind of outcome should be regarded as soft. Emotional experience value delivery for all stakeholders isn’t abstract or squishy, it’s essential.

  2. Count on Jeanne Bliss to always provide an insightful commentary on important issues. All organizations are harmed by concepts rooted in archaic, incomplete perspectives. I have attended too many all-hands leadership meetings that were long on historical arithmetic and short on forward-thinking vision.

    The old-fashioned MBA perspective brought us such concepts as “What gets measured, get’s done.” Try that on other important relationships in your life–like your marriage! If it has to be quantified to matter in an influential way it is a sign of poor leadership! Customer relationships are far more than what can be reduced to a metric. While there is always an important side to the objective, logical, analytical and rational, a singular focus without balanced allegiance to the subjective, emotional, irrational and spirited side misses the complete picture of the very nature of customer service.

    Jeanne’s thoughtful plea for a balanced perspective reminds me of John Steinbeck’s description of a fishing expedition in his book Sea of Cortez.

    “The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus nine spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating in the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being—an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.”

    “The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil-smelling jar, remove a stiff colorless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines and write the truth. There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed—probably the least important reality concerning either the fish or yourself.”

    Steinbeck’s poignant lines remind us that no matter how comprehensive and accurate our modern metrics may be, they will never completely assess or describe the magic and mystery of a spirited customer or employee relationship. With objective data, tidy calculations, and sterilized reports, leaders are losing touch with the fact that they are putting precious energy on the “least important reality concerning” the customer, the employee or the leader.

  3. Lovely post as always Jeanne – on the point of academia ‘stepping up to the plate’ of recognising Customer Experience as a necessary reality – this has concerned me for some time. So many senior leaders in organisations around the world are suffering from an epidemic – an epidemic of insufficient knowledge when it comes to the subject of Customer Experience. Whilst much of the profession is driven by intuition, passion and belief, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that developing expert knowledge across the core CX competencies is essential if an organisation is going to genuinely succeed as a sustainably customer centric one.

    This being said, so few academic institutions are doing anything about it. Future business leaders are still graduating without sufficient knowledge of Customer Experience. I personally feel the more that can be done in this area, the better – from schools, to colleges and universities. The next generation of the c-suite are the greatest chance we will ever have to see traditional business attitudes and beliefs change.

  4. Hi Jeanne: According to Wikipedia, an MBA program covers “various areas of business such as accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, and operations in a manner most relevant to management analysis and strategy. Most programs also include elective courses.” What you have covered are customer centric guidelines, but they don’t match up with the broad-based academic rigor in an accredited MBA program. I think the comparison is confusing. Sure, it could be useful for MBA students to be exposed to these guidelines, and maybe at some MBA programs, they are. As a prospective employer, I certainly want candidates to be steeped in the values you describe, along with having fundamental business knowledge that MBA degrees (or undergraduate business degrees, for that matter) provide. For executive roles in customer service, one without the other is very limiting.

    The AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) has some additional information that might be of interest: The University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration offers concentrations that encompass what you recommend, including Consulting, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Strategy, Ethics, Leadership and Organizational Behavior, Marketing, Operations, Quantitative Analysis, and Sustainability. Though some of your Central Tenets are tactical, and might not be explicitly included in the course outlines, I think you will find many of the ideals you espouse within the coursework.

    I disagree that there are “dangerous elements to what we teach MBA’s.” What’s dangerous are the things that are not taught, which particularly includes open discussion of ethical decision making. I was disappointed in Eric Jackson’s article. I do not see the “issues” he cited as problematic. In the past four years, I have spent considerable time at engineering schools around the US. Each point he made could equally apply to them. Or architecture schools. Or medical/dental schools. Take your pick. They are not endemic to graduate business schools.

  5. Hi Andrew
    Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I see your point about what we do not teach MBA students…

    My article was not meant to be a thorough outline of an MBA course…but rather to stir up this debate, which i am very grateful that we are having.

    The key point we can agree on is that traditional “marketing” courses need an overhaul. They are sadly behind the time in educating students on the comprehensive and broad skill sets required that go beyond traditional marketing tactics and campaigns.

    Andrew, thanks as always for elevating our conversation on this topic.

  6. Great stuff, Jeanne. In my book Value Creation, the Definitive Guide for Business Leaders, I talk about changing MBA teaching from being one of bringing out “good” managers and efficiency experts to get executives to focus on value creation consciously (and destroy less value). We also want to get MBA schools go beyond the focus on functional teaching to value creation teaching. Functional teaching makes HRD and IT become staff functions (and not line functions; and very few of these CXOs become CEOs). We need to shift all of this thinking to Value creation for employees, customers, partners and supply/delivery chain and for society.
    Jeanne, I request you, Bob Thompson and others to join hands with me in getting MBA schools to change. Thanks.

  7. Business schools – both graduate and undergraduate – embed value creation into much of their coursework. Value is a resource that companies both create and consume, and managing those efforts requires policies, measurements, processes, infrastructure, resources, assets, and human talent – the business administration part that others are railing against, because they seem to work at cross purposes for positive customer experience.

    I have long advocated for teaching B2B selling at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. My conversations with faculty at my own alma mater and other schools have revealed how schools introduce new material into courses. What I have learned is that B-Schools can and do integrate material and coursework based on 1) student demand, and 2) recruiter demand. It’s hard to say which comes first, but if corporate recruiters were providing feedback to faculty that students were unprepared in the areas Jeanne described, they would be motivated to make the requisite changes. Similarly, students will demand coursework to prepare them to be hired in fields that portend high job satisfaction, career growth, and earnings potential.

    Whether those jobs are in customer service roles isn’t clear to me. If they are not, then I think it would be a hard sell to a Dean of any school to devote coursework to this specific topic. Yes, universities are complex bureaucracies, and curriculum changes can be slow as molasses, but they are responsive to the forces of student and corporate demand. The best way to grab a B-school Dean’s attention is not to tell him or her how badly you think such-and-such is needed, but to send a recruiter to campus with 30 or so well-paying customer-service positions to fill. I am confident they will be quite willing to listen.

    Right now, there’s a lot of buzz about AI and automation in customer service. Would those developments – if true – be motivating for students to select customer service as a profession? Or to even worry about whether the principles are taught outside of Marketing 101, or Fundamental of Operations Research?

    Students have access to salary data, and if you’re in B-School right now, you’re seeing bright opportunity for data science, finance, and consulting, and probably less in managing a call center or field service operation. My recent article, For Young People Starting in Business, Sales and Marketing Careers Lack Sizzle provides links to salary information for undergraduate B-School students.

  8. Great perspective on customer experience, and unfortunately seems to run against the current trends toward greater automation (e.g. ‘chatbots’).

    The obstacle course for the customer isn’t the only one that needs to be removed. The Employee obstacle course is often one of the root causes of these ten ideas not being present in so many organizations. Too often, the front line is faced with unnecessary and conflicting goals.

    Taking ownership vs. call time; removing the ‘hot-potato’ vs. leveraging more experienced people; apologizing vs. liability risk – those sorts of things.

    I’m not sure, Chip, that ‘What get’s measured gets done’ is flawed in principle. It is a reality of human nature in the workplace. If a performance review is based heavily on call-time, for example, but listening and understanding isn’t, people are going to focus on call-time, and forgo the listening. Measuring things is a flawed approach only when leadership chooses to measure the wrong things.

    Jeanne, I like how you identified the quarter-to-quarter mentality as one of the core issues. It is indeed one of the biggest obstacles to the CX principles we, in this group at least, understand and champion.

    Perhaps what’s really needed is a shift from ROI to ROE – Return on Experience. It may be harder to quantify, but it’s doable. Then, we can start to measure cause rather than effect. The ‘call-time’ metric, for example, can shift to a ‘listening and comprehension’ metric ( or something similar). All one would need to do is connect the dots between the enhanced customer experience and the broader business health.

    We worked with a company a while back, and did a whole bunch of math to quantify the cost of call escalations, repeated customer calls, customer churn, etc. We convinced them run a test – to remove a lot of the old metrics, and siloed behaviour. Employees were empowered to take as much time as they needed, and do whatever it takes to ensure positive outcomes. We were able to quantify the outcomes in real dollars and cents after the first quarter, and we were all startled at the results. A little over 6% decrease in time costs, 7% increase in NPS and 4% decrease in employee churn.

    Yes, there is indeed a payoff to Customer Love.


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