Recently I have been returning to Peter Drucker‘s work, specifically The Practice of Management (originally published in 1954, the current edition is HarperBusiness, 1993). On page 50, Drucker says the following:
“What is our business is not determined by the producer but by the consumer. It is not defined by the company’s name, statutes, or articles of incorporation but by the want the consumer satisfies when he buys a product or service. The question can therefore be answered only by looking at the business from the outside, from the point of view of the customer and the market what the consumer sees, thinks, believes and wants at any given time must be accepted by management is an objective fact deserving to be taken as seriously as the reports of a salesman, the tests of the engineer or the figures of the accountant — something few managements find it easy to do. In management must make a conscious effort to get honest answers from the consumer himself rather than attempt to read his mind.”
Customer -Centered Business
So here we are reading something written in 1954 that is still very difficult to do. Almost everyone in business speaks the words, the rhetoric, of the customer centric business. But it still seems incredibly difficult to overcome the centripetal forces of day-to-day business and really engage customers directly and frankly.
A recent social web marketing seminar (Social Media Club Boston) reminded me again of this very same problem. One of the presenter’s, Greg Jarboe, SEO-PR, told a wonderful story of how Southwest Airlines learned that though they might forbid the use of the word “cheap” internally, customers on the web are searching for “cheap airfares” not “inexpensive” or “frugal” or “cost-effective”. Even on the web, or perhaps even more so, the customer defines the terms and values of the game. All the more reason to put effort into finding out what they customer really wants.