Who Cares About Customers?

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Who cares about customers?  Many of you might find that question shocking, many of you might agree, and many might be resigned to it given the current business environment.

Are customers important?  Does it really matter if they are happy or not?  Or does it only matter that they get what they came for in the most functional, basic way possible?

It would seem that there are many businesses that believe and quite boldly send the message that they really don’t care about customers.  They see customers as a tool to get them to their objectives, namely profit and shareholder value.  This is very apparent in companies where customer service is not part of the incentive criteria of C-Suite leaders and sales people, they are sending a distinct message that customers don’t matter only profit does.

I am amazed at the shortsightedness of this thinking.  How do these folks think they make profit?  Where do they think the money comes from?  Do they believe in a money tree?

Without customers to serve, there is no business, there is no revenue, and there is no profit to be had.  And mind you, since customers are human beings, emotional creatures, it’s not just about helping them, it’s about making them happy too.

Airlines are easy targets here as most of them make it pretty clear customers don’t matter.  They cram more people into tighter and tighter seats, and throw up charge after charge for every little thing, and all in the name of safety or rising costs when the real message is clear, “Passengers can’t really do anything about our practices, we can plead safety and the need for more security, and if we can make more money and satisfy the Wall Street barons with these phony justifications, so be it, we’ll get ours and that’s all we care about.”  Hopefully, this isn’t the road more businesses are traveling down.

In a very general way, I see two extremes in business today with companies falling all along the line.  On one end, companies serve customers well and treat them fairly and with integrity.  These companies have great workplace cultures where employees are treated well and rewarded for a job well done.  The profits of these organizations are generated by delivering a great product with excellent service.  Their healthy bottom line is viewed as a winning scorecard for doing business right.  On the other end, revenue and profit are the goal and customers are seen only as pawns in getting financial results. The workplace cultures are manipulative with employees seen, much like customers, as minions who do the dirty work.  The profits of these organizations are generated in any way possible using policies, laws, nickle and dime charges, and anything else that can be devised to make a buck with, when necessary, lip service being paid to concern for customers and a quality product.

My hope is that business done toward the integrity end wins this battle or we are all doomed to terrible experiences where we must shop, travel, dine, and even work in desperation.  If that’s your hope too, work to influence a move away from the short-term, bottom-line-only end of the spectrum.  Do what you can to ensure the human-to-human element isn’t blurred into distant memory.  Make sure your business does care about customers…and employees too.

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