Customer CEO: A book review by Bob Morris

Customer CEOCustomer CEO: How to Profit from the Power of Your Customers 
Chuck Wall
Bibliomotion (2013)

To paraphrase Pogo the possum, “We have met the customer and we are [or should be] her or him.”

Over the years, I have read and reviewed hundreds of books on one or more aspects of the “customer experience.” Most (not all) of their authors recommend a customer-centric approach when attempting to create or increase demand for whatever is offered. Not everyone agrees with that approach. For example, Henry Ford once claimed, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” More recently, Steve Jobs observed, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

That said, the facts remain that (a) customers tend to have a better idea of what they don’t want than they do of what they do want but (b) the great successes of the Model T and the iProducts indicate that consumers will generously reward what prove to be disruptive innovations and (c) those who are marketing products and/or services need to anticipate and prepare for significant changes in the given competitive marketplace. For example, Henry Ford created an industry of mass production of low-cost automobiles but refused to change when consumer preferences changed (e.g. choice of several in addition to black).

In Customer CEO, Chuck Wall correctly observes that consumers have more power now than ever before because they have more and better information – hence leverage — now than ever before. Therefore, they decide whether or not to become a consumer. Barbara Bund was among the first to recognize the power of customer-centric thinking. In her business classic, The Outside-In Corporation: How to Build a Customer-centric Organization fro Breakthrough Results, she observes, As she explains in the Preface, “The primary objective of this book is to help business managers use [her various] insights effectively in practice. It is to share the outside-in discipline — to provide a road map for managers to follow in creating and leading outside-in corporations, even in organizations where the unfortunate inside-out perspective has prevailed in the past.” (Page xviii) Later in her narrative, she adds, “The most important thing about this definition [of strategy based on a marketing mix of product, price, communication, and distribution] is that it requires that the strategic tools must be chosen to address the needs of one or more market segments. There must be a clear customer foundation, based on customer needs and behavior. In addition, the components of the strategy must fit with one another and work together; they must be consistent and coordinated.” (Page 128)

Wall notes that we are in or rapidly approaching a “social era” when customers “rely more on the recommendations of their friends than on messages from the brands themselves…In a nutshell, [marketers] need to think about the customer experience as no different from any successful relationship in terms of how it makes the other person feel [especially how the relationship makes them they feel about themselves], from beginning to end.”

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Wall’s coverage:

o The Customer Isn’t Always Right (Pages 5-7)
o New Customers May Not Be Who You Think (17-20)
o Profiting from the Power of Me (40-43)
o Bathing in Beads , Big Box of Bargains, and The Airlines Customers Love to Hate (53-62)
o Tear Down the Walls (69-71)
o A Bathtub Full of Dirt (74-76)
o Everybody’s Talking (81-85)
o Can You Feel the Love? (88-90)
o Number Two and Lovin’ It (95-99)
o Sole Simplicity (102-104)
o The World Is Flat (109-112)
o Profiting from the Power of Yes (119-122)
o Real-Time Engagement (125-128)
o The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told (131-132)
o The Star of the Waltz (144-147)
o Discover the Statue Inside (164-166)
o Profit + 11 (182-184)

To sum up, a “Customer CEO Champion” understands that business is all about customers, continuously creates value for them, celebrates the relationship with them at every possible opportunity, is engaged in a constant search to deliver higher performance for each customer, loves to say “yes,” provides a platform for frequent two-way conversations with customers, enjoys breaking the rules when that is appropriate, and sees each relationship as a series of opportunities to serve a high purpose than just doing business. Bund asserts and Wall wholly concurs that every person at each level and in all areas of the given enterprise must be a Customer CEO Champion.

One final point: The companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and the best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their respective industries. That is emphatically NOT a coincidence.

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