Customer is a term of broader use than client. It is one who purchases a commodity or service. A client, on the other hand, is a person who engages the professional services or advice of another. Customers include those who engage in one-time transactions as well as longer-term commercial relationships. The term client usually signifies a more intimate long-term relationship. But let’s focus on centricity.
Centricity as Attitude and Action
To place those we serve, customer or client, at the center of our concerns is to regard them as an end rather than a means to an end. To regard another as an end is to acknowledge their dignity as a person, a unique and free moral agent. Therefore, we seek to operate with their interests in mind. We align our actions and design our goods or services to help them realize their aims. That is the value they pay for.
Some degree of empathic understanding is required to achieve and sustain this quality of alignment over time. We who provide goods and services will miss the mark at times, lose focus, and fall short of true customer/client centricity. And at that time, we have another opportunity to demonstrate commitment to centricity by acknowledging that we've lost alignment and getting back on track with them.
In fact, I would suggest that just as our readiness to restore good-faith relations is essential to building trust in a personal relationship, this “redemptive” act of transparency signals similar qualities of integrity and fidelity to the values in our commercial relationships. This implies that we take our relationship with the customer or client personally. We must treat them with care, as an end.
Centricity as Structure and Strategy
Sustaining these norms of attitude and action over time will require that we design our organizational structure with this as a strategic intent. Marketing will continuously observe, study, and anticipate the direction in which their customers’ and clients’ markets are going. Product development and operations will continuously find ways to add value, reduce waste, and be a timely partner.
Strategic centricity can never be all things to all people. We must stake out a direction that we as a firm can deliver on. That means saying “no” to some opportunities in order to “yes” and keep our promises with those we are best designed to address exceptionally well. Adaptive change over time is made possible by sustaining an active, attuned quality of communication and performance measurement.
There is very little in the structure and strategy of the firm that cannot and should not be made clear to the customer or client. Both parties understand that risk-taking is inherent to a market economy. And in a customer/client centric business relationship these risks are discussed openly and honestly. Nothing is without cost. Informed consent is an essential element of any agreement.
Centricity as Duty to Serve
Ultimately, if we treat our customers and clients as an end, and if we place their interests at the center of our planning, decision-making, and actions, centricity becomes an ethic. It’s an ethic that calls upon us to consider what we owe to those we serve, but also what we owe to one another. We must form just and honorable alliances within our firm and between us as a firm and our clients and customers.
If we cannot treat one another as persons, as ends and not merely means, how will we be able to uphold this ethic in our marketplace dealings. Again, we will fall short from time to time. The stresses and stain of our fast-moving, 24/7 economy can leave us feeling ragged at times. So, we must cultivate the capacity to notice this fatigue factor and intervene accordingly, to acknowledge, apologize, and make it right.
What I have suggested here clearly goes beyond marketing hyperbole. Few could argue with the idea of centricity. It makes sense, and it works well when realized in action. One way to ensure that we sustain our duty to serve is to make sure we align our interest with those whose interests we serve. We must pursue our work in a way that pays off for us while also being highly valuable for those we serve. That's an ethical and commercial win-win!