The problem with “customer obsession”

Management guru Peter Drucker once said that the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer. Whether a business is for-profit or not-for-profit, we need customers to invest in us, to choose us, to buy from us, and to keep doing so over time.

For most organisations, the first step in this journey – customer focus – simply means to observe what the customer does, to serve their needs, and to put their satisfaction above everything else.

So far, so good. But customer focus is a bit like bird-watching; it’s a one-way activity.

Progressive organisations realised that we needed to do more than this, so we became customer-centric. Essentially, this means putting the customer at the heart of the decisions we make; understanding how they come into contact with us; and how our internal processes help (or hinder) our relationship. This evolution has largely been a positive one, and for many is still underway.

Now, however, I'm starting to see another change in the way that we talk about customers – customer obsession. This, however, is not a change for the better.

When we are obsessed with something, it’s usually because it is something we cannot have. The term 'obsession' is associated with repetitive negative thinking – fear, compulsion and addiction – and behaviours like stalking and harassment. That doesn’t sound fun or desirable. It sounds like something that will get you a date with a magistrate.

Why then, are commentators starting to tell us we need a “customer obsession”?

What's really going on here is that suppliers feel as though we have lost our power in relationship to customers. But this is not true. Any time we have something that someone wants, we have power too. What our customers really have is choice. And so do we.

We can choose to think in terms of customer engagement, not customer obsession. Instead of coming from a place of fear, engagement comes from a place of conviction and belief; that we can help our customers build their future. And that’s a change for the better.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Re-Engage is my training and coaching program for organisations with multiple major accounts. It will give your people the framework, skills, and confidence to lead contract renewals with your existing customers. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.