Sunday, February 05, 2006

Volume 18 - The Customer

The Customer: the purpose for the creation of a product. The reason that R & D exists. Why we have 'customer service' people. The portion of the supply chain that 'pays' for the product we create. The reason that millions of dollars are spent on 'attention getting advertising'. The source of our paycheck. The reason stores get 'stocked'. The Christmas 'rush'. How budgets are inadvertently justified. The reason that the 'Easter Bunny' was created. Why yogurt comes in a hundred flavors. Why butter isn't butter (anymore). Why 'Rudolph's' nose is red. Or, at least, that's what it (business) should be about. But is it?

I think not. It hasn't been about the customer since the 'local neighborhood' butcher, baker, and candlestick maker disappeared. It hasn't been about the customer since it became more important to 'enhance shareholder investment' not through the old fashion way of earning income for delivery of product with fit, function and purpose but rather through manipulation of inventories, pensions and falsifying facts or, within mergers and acquisitions arena, which had its false beginnings in justifying an analyst's report for a stock rating (public sector) or a business loan or sale (private sector).

At least in the past, the executive or business owner involved in such larceny had the class to jump from a 50 story building or take a warm bath with a cigar, soft music, a few candles and a sharp knife instead of 'playing' the innocent in a long trial and then sent to prison while others, and in some cases many others, suffered for his/her crime. Or worse, simply walking away and starting a 'new scam' all under the justifications of some self-righteous indignation proclamation as if nothing happened.

I still live under the notion that a company's brand, its reputation, its 'being' includes the product, services, and overall experience that defines the relationship the company has with its customers. Not only in its marketing and alleged 'differentiation' but actually and clearly in its actions from the top to the bottom within the company's 'food chain'. Real value is created on a daily basis, with small decisions that follow a strong internal customer value system. The 'butcher, baker, and candlestick maker' understood the basic of their company's value package, the products and services that the company represented in the marketplace. And now we have taken this simplicity that existed with customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, regulators, etc. and turned a simple concept into some complex analytical form of 'enhanced shareholder value' at any cost.

And, before all you MBA's snicker too much, while you attempt to turn a General Motors or Delphi around with 'lower pricing' or some other stupid 'rebate' program, rather than identifying the problems and putting into place corrective action, understand what the beliefs of a successful company truly are and why even today the 'butcher, baker and candlestick maker' can still be successful. A few basic values and beliefs state:

1. All employees have the ability to understand 'financials', profit and loss, costs and the other 'myriad of mystery' that has been hidden from their eyes for they also have to balance a check book and run a family. They simply deal with less 'zeroes'.
2. A belief in the importance of implementation and execution of the details.
3. A belief in superior quality and service.
4. A belief in the importance of informality to enhance communication both in and out of the company.
5. A belief that 'customer consciousness' starts with specifying value from the customer's perspective.
6. A successful company has a strong internal value system that focuses on continuous improvement and the customer, and not an external value system that focuses on capital markets and short term values.

The question that must be addressed is the one that most companies don't consider but the one that the 'butcher, baker and candlestick maker' always considered: What do customer's really want?