Customer Focus, Culture Vulture and Gaining Trust

Customer focus” has achieved the status of unquestioned business virtue. Hundreds of books and gurus attest to the power of customer focus to improve sellers’ business results.

Customers benefit too by getting what they need. Ain’t it grand, how the invisible hand turns greed into social welfare?

That’s the theory—but theory is getting stress-tested. A lot of “customer focus” is in fact destroying the trust of customers.

Destroying Customer Trust

When customer focus becomes merely a sales tactic—a means to the seller’s end—then it comes the customer focus of a vulture.

A vulture is “customer-focused”—but entirely for its own purposes. When it comes to trust, motives make a difference.

Bad motives are having an impact. When was the last time you filled out one of those endemic “rate how we’re doing” hotel forms?

We no longer even notice the lie, while waiting on hold, in the message “your call is very important to us.” How do you feel when a CSR is scripted to ask you, “have I provided you with excellent customer service?” clearly in order just to collect self-serving performance metrics?

If this were only about used cars and telemarketing, then no biggie. But the vultural perspective is taking over sophisticated B2B interactions in big, complex businesses.

You can see it in highly refined incentive comp systems that tightly link extrinsic and self-serving rewards to ostensibly client-serving actions; in the use of “sustainable competitive advantage” as the baseline for justifying "client service;" in the use of depersonalizing business language like “human capital.”

When Real Customer Focus Results in Higher Trust

Customer focus is a wonderful thing when it includes betterment of the customer at the top level of goals. But when the customer is just a poker chip in a competitive game, a body count for keeping score between competitors, then customer focus has turned cynical.

The irony is, true customer focus—for the customer’s good—results in higher trust, better relationships, and better profitability, than purely self-oriented initiatives.

Emulate not the vulture.