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Those Damn Customers Just Get In The Way Of Doing Business!

by David Brock on February 8th, 2011

A friend called the other day.  He’s a senior executive in the financial side of his company.  He was clearly frustrated, saying, “Dave, I need your help!  The people in this organization and many of the internal functions are killing us.  They can’t stand the customers!  They think everything would be great if it weren’t for those damned customers!  How can I get them to understand — I mean really understand that customers are what keeps us in business?”

I wish that was the first and only time I’ve heard this, sadly though, it’s all too common.  Most people don’t express it so vividly, but you can see that attitude abounds in too many of our customers—“Things would be great if it weren’t for the customers bothering us all the time.”  Worse yet, too often, these attitudes come from companies that also declare themselves to be customer focused.

Customers, customer focus, customer centricity are not just the jobs of sales, marketing and customer service!  Customers are the jobs of everyone in the organization.  Sure intellectually people get it, but it’s the behaviors and attitudes in performing their jobs that betray the reality.  Worse yet, it’s as apparent to customers as if it were being advertised or promoted by the company.

Think of the times you encounter it:

  • You call into a company saying you are a customer, and you are routed from person to person to person, no one answering your question.  No one seeming to take ownership in helping you.
  • You use the customer support on the web, you are emailed a response, purportedly from a “human being,”  it doesn’t answer your question, you go back and re-ask the question, with the same incident number, and they email you the same response, you go back……  (By the way, this happened to me 5 times in a row yesterday with a large software company, before I gave up and called the president–it still took him 24 hours to respond).
  • You question something about service or an invoice or a product, and the response is “it’s our policy.”
  • Support or answers to questions never have a human touch.  Answers are emailed with a “Do Not Reply” label.  Answers are provide anonymously, there is no contact information, no one to talk to.
  • In internal conversations you hear people talking about the customers disparagingly.  Phrases like, “They’re so stupid…”  “They’re just trying to take advantage of us….”  “They’re taking too much of my time….”  “I can’t get my job done because of all their interruptions….”
  • When you complain, you get responses like, “We take all our support requests in order and will get to your issue in due time…”  This happened to me recently, when I complained after having an “emergency support request” not responded to after 56 hours.
  • The only way you can get a response is to go outside normal channels–complaining on twitter or in social media, complaining to an executive.

There are endless stories.  There are other examples:

  • Companies want to establish senior customer contact executive programs.  When you ask what they are trying to achieve, the only goal is to leverage executive relationships to sell more!  This isn’t customer centricity.
  • You sit in meetings in a company, they talk about customers in abstract terms.  You never hear names–company names, people’s names.  You never hear about customer problems, you never hear stories about the customer.  Worse yet, the conversations take on a tone of complaining about demanding customers.
  • Customers are never invited to company meetings–other than as speakers in sales meetings.  Customers are never invited to meet with other people in the company, they never are invited to present at meetings of the executive team.
  • Companies conduct customer satisfaction surveys–yet never publish the results to anyone other than sales and customer service.  They never publish the results to customers who participated along with action plans.
  • The executives, other than sales and marketing, reluctantly agree to their obligatory quota of customer meetings, viewing them as an inconvenience or interruption.  They have no stories about customers that they can share within their organizations, to their people, among each other.

It’s always clear when I’m around a customer centric company.  They have customers in, every day.  Customers see all parts of the business and interact with people other than just sales.  There are pictures of customers all around–maybe even with their stories.  Everywhere you turn, you hear about customers.  Everyone can relate a story, customers are referred to by name.  Executives want to be involved with customers, not to sell more–but to provide customers direct access to them for help, ideas, feedback.  (By the way, companies implementing executive contact programs for that purpose also sell a lot more to their customer!). 

Customer centric companies don’t necessarily believe the customer is always right, but they do believe the customer must be heard, engaged, responded to, and always valued.

  • How do people in your organization talk about customers?
  • Do your executives know the names–of people—in at least your top 10 customers?
  • Are your executives calling you to ask to meet with customers, or do you have to get it on their agenda?
  • How many customer pictures and stories are posted on conference room walls or in the hallways of your organization?
  • How many thank you’s do you get and publish?


Reminder:  Join us on Friday, February 11 at 1:00 EST for Future Selling Institute’s Office Hours.  We weill be discussiong Coaching Opportunities and the Pipeline!  It’s open to everyone, but you have to register to make sure you have a slot to attend.

  1. David,

    Exceptional article. Excellent. I must say the points you raise in your posts are 100% practical. Specially the points you raised below are the most common issues customers fave today including you and me:

    “Customers, customer focus, customer centricity are not just the jobs of sales, marketing and customer service! Customers are the jobs of everyone in the organization”.
    Brilliant, but every person in the organization never understands it, in fact never takes the responsibility to it.

    “You question something about service or an invoice or a product, and the response is “it’s our policy.”
    I hate this “Our policy” I really hate this as a customer and when i receive such answers i realize how bad customers feel when our people reply them with “Our policy”.

    I must say the your approach to “customer centric point is very good. If companies invite customers in their meetings, calling them with their names, post their pictures etc, i am sure they will be getting flood of sales.

    Thanks for this post David, i will surely consider all the above points in my job and will convey them to my fellows. Thank You

  2. erena910 permalink

    I am unable to respond to the questions because I am not part of an organization at this time, but I would like to comment on the issue. I am currently a student at Western Michigan University and I am studying Retail Management with @dr4ward. I decided to follow your blog because you provide helpful insights that I can use in my future. This particular blog I found to be very interesting especially because it is an issue that is so rarely addressed. Customer service in my opinion is almost non existant. After reading this I will definitely be more conscious about my own actions and the actions of organizations I work for in my future. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more of your feeds.

    • Erena, thank you for taking the time to comment on the blog, as well as for your flattering words. I really appreciate it. Customer service—customer experience is critical to the success and growth of every business. We don’t become customer centric by declaring, we become customer centric by the way we behave with the customer. It’s as simple as that.

      Thanks for commenting and following me. Good luck in your studies, I hope to see you commenting here again. Regards, Dave

  3. “Everything would be great if it weren’t for our customers” is really a frightening comment!

    If it weren’t for our customers we wouldn’t make money!

    I am happy to say that I work in a very sales focused company, meaning we all care and work with our customers and will therefore never say anything like that.

    The problem is when many of the employers are so distant from the end users, they only see them as an annoyance.

    • With distance comes abstraction and disconnection. That’s why in customer centric organizations, you see customers everywhere. Great observations Daniel!

  4. David, as we have discussed, this anti-customer behavior is not unique. Last year I approached the C-suite in a number of organizations that I personally had these types of problems with. The reactions were consistent and startling; apologies and individual solutions were given, but discussion about behavioral change solutions was like having a root canal.

    The door is open for organizations to gain a competitive edge and capture a large market share by simply walking the talk

  5. Hi David,
    When I ask a client’s staff who owns the company, they inevitable answer the business owners name. I always help them realise that it is, without exception, the customer who owns the company. Always has – always will. It is the customer who pays their wages, their kids school fees and their mortgages. Skip a customer, skip a payment. Seems to help put things into perspective – Bernadette –

  6. Hi, David Brock. such a great post, thank you for sharing! At the end of the day all business is about people and if you continuously strive to serve people better, your business will get better. Your post did a great job of pinpointing this message. Thanks again!

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