Focus on the customer: from king to partner
The customer is at the center of all entrepreneurial thinking and action – there probably isn’t a single manager who wouldn’t subscribe to this statement. But does that make it correct? In practice, it’s surprisingly often the case that true customer orientation is rather neglected, despite an increasing focus on terms like “customer journey” or “customer experience.” A change in thinking is needed to stay fit for the future, argues Christian Gündling in his book Letzter Aufruf Kundenorientierung ("Last Call for Customer Orientation").
The metaphor of the “customer as king” is as old as commercial competition itself. It expresses a submissive attitude that puts the consumer on a pedestal. As homo economicus, oriented exclusively towards economic expediency, the consumer is indeed the measure of all things. At the same time, however, consumers are also viewed as akin to puppets that can be conditioned to behave in a certain way, as merely reactive elements in the economic cycle. This explains the way most companies see themselves, which hasn’t changed in a hundred years: what’s most important is not the customer but the product, its quality, and the greatest possible distribution in the market. This is the conclusion reached by Christian Gündling, Professor of Marketing and Strategy, in his latest book.
Individual instead of king
It has long been apparent, however, even before the advent of extensive digitalization, that this sort of conception leads above all to merciless price wars and brutal competition – and to a gradual convergence of products. What’s quickly lost sight of in this entrepreneurial construct is — the customer. Although consumers take center stage, they’re also often in the way as a result. They exist mainly in the form of target groups and market research segments, but not as individuals. Yet every customer is, first and foremost, a human being. That’s why, in an age of mature and responsible consumers who are very well-informed but nevertheless predominantly intuitive in their behavior, it is essential to take them and their needs seriously and to understand them.
To this end, they have to be taken from their royal thrones and made partners; customer satisfaction can only be achieved in a joint process. A company that deals with the needs and hidden motives of the customer and redefines the concept of quality – shifting the focus away from specific products and toward the satisfaction of actual customer needs – has the greatest chances of lasting success.
It’s about feelings
Because quality is subjective – just like the customer. What the company regards as valuable doesn’t necessarily have to be perceived that way by consumers. And unconditional customer orientation is about perception, emotions and motives. The decisions of the responsible consumer aren’t primarily based on the cheapest price or the best product; it’s less objective facts and more subjective evaluations that make the difference. That’s why it’s imperative to move away from an argumentative approach in marketing and take a look into the customer’s brain, so to speak.
The conception of behavioral economics provides a good approach to understanding how decisions are made. Put simply, two systems are at work when a selection is made in economic situations: the Wanting system and the Liking system. Wanting comprises intuitive, gut-based actions and is a very quick, almost reflexive system; liking is based on arguments and facts, and is significantly slower. The fact that many of our daily decisions are made on a Wanting basis makes it necessary to look at the motives behind them. The psychologist Norbert Bischof has identified three major types of motives: security, arousal and autonomy. Satisfying the diverse needs resulting from these motivations leads to a positive experience. These insights are essential for successful customer orientation. In their dialogue and continuous give-and-take with consumers, companies would do well to consider that purchase decisions are often motivated not simply by the attractiveness of a product but by entirely different factors. If they bear this in mind, they will have already understood more about their supposed “king” than most competitors, the author believes.
Christian Gündling, Letzter Aufruf Kundenorientierung (“Last Call for Customer Orientation”), Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2018, 362 pages, eBook €74.99, Softcover + eBook €34.99
Christian Gündling is Professor of Marketing and Strategy at the Jade University of Applied Sciences, a consultant to numerous successful companies, an explorer of frontiers in search of new paths, and a mediator between the theoretical optimum and practical feasibility.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
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