Customer Business Is Just Business, And Business Is War. Or Is It?

31st Jul 2014


This was a spontaneous response to a pot about Acquisition and Retention on the Customer Blog but it touched a different fundamental subject and I felt I should publish it separately.

Businesses are, excuse the pun, in the business of business. Making money for their shareholders - and customers are just some unavoidable inconvenience on the path to that goal. Similar nuisances are employees and suppliers. Quite often - even the shareholders themselves, who may expect on top of their returns some silly things like respect and being listened to.

‘Business’ in this construct is not the entity itself (mega-corporation or tiny limited company, it has no brain or soul of its own) - but the human leadership, the top echelon of decision makers like the C-suites and the Boards. Or, in smaller business, the owners. They are humans, exhibit traits, emotions and behaviours - which spread down their organisations in the form referred to as ‘culture’ and make others behave in similar ways.

This human ‘central hub’ in the value chains typically cannot comprehend that stakeholder interests don’t have to be antagonistic and can potentially be aligned. Antagonism is in their DNA, how they were brought up, and their only idea how business (and life in general) works: as an endless fight. Being warriors (very good at that) is how they reached the top positions. Little wonder that they see Customer and Shareholder interests only as total opposites (one wants all the profits, and the other wants ‘everything free’). Quite similarly Employees in their eyes (‘our best asset’ - what a laugh) are only supposed to have interests opposite to the business. It’s WAR, period. A zero-sum game with no such thing as the proverbial ‘win-win’. Business since times immemorial has been likened to war, we speak of strategies and tactics, have hierarchies and study military books to learn business.

In this context ‘Customer Strategy’ is in reality about how to DEFEAT the customers in the war game. ‘Customer Focus’, even ‘Customer Centricity’ is nothing but precision targeting of weapons. The very, very small minority of business leaders who speak of alignment of interests, or growing customer and shareholder value in harmony - are not entirely honest. For some it’s lip service, part of PR (like the war-craft art of deceiving the enemy). For even fewer an honest belief in the concept is not matched by ability to deliver, not least because of dominant peer- and board culture.
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I am not known as a cynical sceptic (more of a recklessly naive optimist :). The above picture was painted not as a doom-and-gloom sermon, but to describe what our community of customer-centric thinkers is up against. What we are trying - and are determined - to change. It helps that we have sparkles of light along the tunnel, in the form of enlightened CEOs who have led a handful of inspiring businesses to success by embracing the alignment of stakeholder interests and growing value in harmony for employees, suppliers, customers - and shareholders as a result.

I see our priority task in demonstrating that genuine interest in the needs and happiness of customers generates superior shareholder value. With rational logic, rather than passion (of which we have plenty, but is easily - if rarely openly - derided by the cynics). Proving the ideology with real-life examples. Not ‘best practice’ cases as in endless recycling of the 2-and-a-half brands we all know. But building our own humble success stories, one at a time, in a down-to-earth rather than high-profile manner. Success is the lifeblood of warriors and our success stories may - just may - align the interest of those elite business warriors and thus guide them into a customer-centric path.


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