We’ve Lost the Client Focus

by Rick Buckingham

Business today has lost the client focus.

It’s as simple as that. There’s no spin, no hype, and no play on words. Despite the fact that corporations spend millions of dollars each year on programs and training designed to teach them how to deliver exceptional customer service, we still suffer from mediocre service. Associates fail to demonstrate their newly learned skills, and company leaders look away as service ratings plummet.

As our economy is stuck in a slump, companies today need lifetime clients now more than ever. They need to not only satisfy their clients, but also to delight and "wow" them so their clients refer future business and generate lifetime profits. Unfortunately, the actions of American businesses make it perfectly clear that they have lost their reason for being. No longer do businesses strive to properly serve a client; rather, companies today want to make money as quickly and painlessly as possible.

This epidemic is rampant in all types of businesses: health care, banks, airlines, communication companies, and even fabled department stores and Internet companies. The bottom line is that today’s product and service providers have lost that desire to delight their clients.

Business today is all about profits, IPOs, and leveraged buyouts. And when these companies go public or merge, the clients – the ones who brought the companies to the dance – are left alone in the middle of the dance floor. It’s like the astute movie critic who wrote after this year’s Academy Awards that the winning actors and actress thanked everyone under the sun except the people who bought the movie tickets. Sound familiar?

Too many companies neglect to say the phrases clients want to hear most, namely, "How can we serve you better?" "How can we bring greater value to you?" or "We’re going to merge so we can better serve you." No. Unfortunately, companies rarely utter these sentiments. What clients hear instead is ringing cash registers and customers being trampled.

The high-tech industry, in particular, is guilty of this "profit over service" mentality. High-tech companies possess an outstanding tool to bring clients and companies closer together – the Internet. There has never been a better tool to help companies serve clients or efficiently manage their operations. However, few, if any, Internet companies have taken complete advantage of all the Internet has to offer.

Although Internet companies have at their disposal a source of instantaneous information that can make both companies and clients’ lives easier, their battle cry is not, "Let’s serve our clients better," or "Let’s improve business practices." No. The battle cry is "How much can we go public for?" or "Who will buy us and for how much?" As is so often the case these days, they have forgotten the client.

And lest you believe that even fabled department stores maintain the client focus, think again. Numerous department stores have web sites that encourage client feedback; however, accessing those pages is nearly impossible. One major department store renowned for their customer service encourages client feedback on their web site. When you access the customer feedback section, though, you’re immediately greeted by a window that asks what you want to order or which new store location you need. Everybody is in such a rush to make money today that they have forgotten the importance and necessity of excellent service.

Fortunately, this "profit over service" trend can’t last too much longer. With the current state of our national economy, more and more companies will slowly realize the value that having "client focus" brings to business.

Granted, the transformation may not happen tomorrow or next month, but things have a way of righting themselves. Regardless of the amount of hype a business generates, it can’t sustain itself for long without healthy client relationships. The companies that ultimately thrive and survive will be the ones who are truly dedicated to their clients.

When business history is written, it is the companies that have worked hard to forge long-term partnerships with their clients that will rise to the top. In the end, these will be the companies that deliver financial returns the profit-motivated organizations can only dream of.


Richard Buckingham is the author of Kiplinger’s Customer Once, Client Forever. Mr. Buckingham may be reached at (301) 913-0222, rdb@goalstar.com, or at www.goalstar.com.

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