Put customers first, but keep it to yourself

‘We put customers at the heart of everything we do’.

Hands up if you’ve ever written these words in a statement, press release, Q&A, corporate narrative, annual report or other piece of communication.

I have, and I wish I hadn’t. In fact I have become a zealot, searching and destroying this kind of nonsense whenever I encounter it.

Of course you bloody well put customers at the heart of everything you do! What kind of organisation doesn’t?

I see claims of ‘customer centricity’ in every sector, but it amuses me most in healthcare where the seemingly tautological notion of ‘patient-centred healthcare’ is rife. What other kind of healthcare is there, I asked innocently when I started working in the sector two decades ago.

The scales soon fell from my eyes. Historically the lifestyle of doctors, the convenience of administrators, the reputation of researchers and expectations of investors, have all taken precedence over the well-being of people.

To those who have experienced this warped set of priorities, the idea of patient-centred healthcare as an alternative model is very real and no doubt expressed with sincerity. But to the rest of us, who have happily assumed that the healthcare fraternity has always had our best interests at heart, it merely raises a question we never thought to ask in the first place.

Internally there may well be a good reason to remind colleagues to serve customers first and to reassure them that in doing so they will, ultimately, serve their own needs and that of the organisation well. But externally, my advice is to keep it to yourself. Demonstrate customer focus with actions, not words. Apple has never claimed to put customers at the heart of anything it does.

Increasingly, cynical citizens – not to mention journalists, campaigners and politicians – are likely to conclude that the more an organisation claims to put customers first the more likely it is, in fact, to put them last.

[This guest post was written by Steve Marinker, Partner and Head of Maitland Corporate]

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