Value of Belonging: the Orphaned Customer


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A few days ago I wrote about anonymous customers (anonymous because companies do not know them, nor do theymake an effort to view their many customers as individuals) and the difficulty of customers in trying to reach anonymous executives. The article resonated with many people that had had difficulty in contacting executives, and getting problems solved.

Today I wish to reflect on another aspect of this Customer neglect (or you can call it disregard, inattention, lack of care).

Take Tata Sky, a company that within the Tata Group is considered customer focused, but outside the Tata family is thought of as pedestrian. Times of India called them Tata Sigh!

Recently, they were trying to extract more capacity from their satellites. This caused certain channels to go blank. The convenience of the company (maybe they would save costs read increase profit) came ahead of the convenience of the customers (the convenience of the customers was to be told about the glitch and keeping them in the loop). Television is important to people and they were forced to miss their favorite serial or show with whom they have a sense of belonging and continuity.

Tata Sky could have easily broadcast a message to their customers on their TV’s. They do this for bill reminders. Here is a case of a company that converted known customers to anonymous ones (we don’t know you, they seemed to say).

And then when customers tried to reach them, they were unreachable, because they could not respond to so many people. These calls would have been reduced if they had reached out to customers. One executive told me they thought this was an overnight problem but actually it took 3 or 4 days to fix. Hell, they could have reached out on day 2 if not on day 1. Or even on day 3.

To me this is a case of not letting or wanting the customer belong to a company.

Humans want to belong to or be associated with: a group (religious, political, school, charity, travel), a social organisation (Facebook, LinkedIn, college groups, user groups), to a product or company, to their family and friends. Belonging means acceptance as a member. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in companies. That is why, company or brand communities like the Harley riders or the wine tasters group are important.

Take your friends or classmates. At some time there is great interaction and need for each other. As youleave college, you still think of your friends. Over time, your necessity for the classmate reduces. In a time of difficulty, you might reach out to them again. If they do not respond, you start to drop them. If they respond, it reinforces your friendship.

This is precisely what happens with the customers’ association with a company. While buying or first using a product they need close contact, and as time goes on they need less interaction with the company. But the moment a problem arises, they expect the company to be there. This is part of the belonging syndrome. And when the company is not available or responsive, the customer feels let down. His sense of belonging is affected. Companies have to be available at this crucial moment.

And when they are not, customers feel orphaned. They look elsewhere for support.

At the end of the day, people like to connect with things that are really personal to them, says Carla Hassan, CMO of Pepsi. And anxiety, frustration, not belonging is certainly personal.

Ranjay Gulati of Harvard wrote that companies fall into a competency trap and focus on what they are good at and not what the customer wants. This is why they find it difficult to change. MBA schools teach them to be efficient and good administrators. But they do not teach any real customer or customer value courses.

SteveDiGioia, a Customer Service Coach (Author of The “Go-To Guy”) says he has found, time and time again, that along the “ladder of success” comes a withdrawal from the front line of customer service. As one gets higher in the chain of command he/she get lower in the concerns of the customer experience and what it’s like to be the individual actually responsible for “serving the guest”. Numbers, budgets and marketing take the lead over all else. But, what about the customer?

I say to Steve they must have priorities more important than the customer priority (I couldn’t think of one except the ingrained training that profit is god, not the customer).

Do not be anonymous to the customer. Add value to him by being available when he needs you. Make your company his family/partner in times of his need. If you, as an executive think through this, you will find a way to keep him in your fold and add value to him and thereby to your company.

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 (


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