thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

The Year of the Customer

By on December 31, 2008

As we are about to begin a new year, please let me assure you that I am just kidding with the title of this post. Isn't it somewhat presumptuous to announce just one year for customers, when every day and every year should be devoted to them? It also makes you wonder what the other years have been dedicated to, doesn't it?

The phrase Year of the Customer has been proclaimed by individual companies and consultants for over 20 years now. In 1987, for example, then IBM Chairman, John Akers, declared the year of the customer. Although it was a noble purpose to try to improve systems for the benefit of the customer, it failed miserably. I have recently mentioned one episode from this initiative in my post dated November 26, 2008.

Any search of the Internet will uncover many other examples of years, particularly since 2000, that have been designated the Year of the Customer. The most recent one, noted by VisionEdge Marketing, was the declaration, in the third annual New York Stock Exchange CEO Report, of 2008 as the year of the customer. I guess you saw how that turned out?

In 2000, Ander Gronstedt went even further by declaring the 21st century the Customer Century The Customer Century : Lessons from World Class Companies in Integrated Communications . I suppose that should stop any further escalation of slogans. How do you get any better-the Customer Millennium, perhaps? But the point, of course, is that a naming only means something if the customer notices a change and that does not happen very readily.

It is really tough to break away from being internally focused and transition to being customer focused. It does not simply happen by announcing a slogan such as the Year of the Customer. In order to transition to truly being customer-directed, companies must break free from decades of old habits. They must shed the inward culture in which internal processes are more important than what the customer values. Metrics, of course, are important to this transition. But leadership is essential in order to change the culture to one in which your customers' success drives every decision.

Here is my recommendation. Instead of declaring another customer slogan, identify what your organization needs to deal with the future-as viewed from what your customers value. Instead of simply thinking about your customers, switch to thinking like your customers and putting in place ideas which will enable your organization to do just that.

Globally, 2008 was very disappointing economically for most organizations and the beginning of 2009 will be equally challenging for everyone. Your customers will be even more important to you and now is a great time to transform your company to one in which every process, every policy, and every customer touch-point is thought about in the way the customer thinks.

As you make your resolutions for 2009, it is my hope that you value the people and companies who buy from you enough to begin the change. Resolve to have your company continually question how it can improve its product or service by thinking like its customers-not just for one year, but looking forward years into the future. I wish you great success in transforming your organization into one that creates customers who are so loyal that they dare not dream of replacing your company as their supplier. Good luck in the New Year!


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