“Delight the customer” is not “strategic,” it’s just meaningless words

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I wish that once in a blue moon, executives at companies used terms that meant anything when describing how they do business. One of the newest (5–10 years?) of this ilk is “Delight the customer.” Logically this comes about from the rise of Amazon, which is focused on beating you to death on margins and not paying taxes — sorry, sorry, I meant delighting the customer — so that their CEO can become the richest person in the world (a noble metric, because Jesus wanted us all to be very rich) and cheat on his wife with the ex of a NFL tight end. Ah, society, how broken ye truly are.

Guys love to explain the Amazon business model because it makes them feel like real masculine “biz guys.” I’ve legit been in 5–10 conversations in the past six months where someone was like “Well see Ted, what Bezos does is … he invests money back into the business, so…” I usually tune out at the word “Bezos.” I’m probably thinking about the 1994 Montreal Expos at that moment. That’s something that really could have been great and wasn’t. I don’t really care about a company whose original name was “Relentless.”

But their customer focus — delight the customer — has gone all over the business world and now it’s somehow viewed as a “strategic objective” at some places. What? How does one quantify “delight?” An orgasm is delightful, as is a fine cigar or chocolate mousse. Those are very different things — although damn, try to put all three together and you’ve got the beginnings of a well-streamed movie. There are any number of problems with this idea that “delighting a customer” is “strategic.” Let me quickly walk through a couple.

“What’s measured is what matters!”

This is the over-arching trope of the business world right now, even though almost every executive still makes decisions based on gut feel and literally nothing else. Who wants to get to a top perch, and make big money, and then go use data from a machine to make decisions? What was the point of those necks you stepped on for the last 20 years? To listen to a f’n machine? Sorry, Bob. I’m going to trust my gut.

But if what’s measured is what matters, then you need a way to measure “delight” for it to, well, matter. And then we run into a second issue…

How “delight” is measured

That’s typically going to be a customer survey of some kind. Right? I mean, there are other approaches, but I bet over 60% of companies are still using a survey as a measure of “delight.” Well, then, OK … we know surveys are flawed inherently, but there’s a bigger problem:

A company selects “delighting the customer” as a strategic objective and decides to track progress on it using customer survey scores. The surveys do tell managers something about how well the firm is pleasing customers, but somehow employees start thinking the strategy is to maximize survey scores, rather than to deliver a great customer experience.

So now it’s about “hitting the number” instead of the end goal — which should be pleasing, or dare I say delighting, the customer. The metric has become the important part; the objective is no longer relevant so long as the metric can be proven. Instagram Impressions, anyone? This is the core issue of metrics in most businesses: They overwhelm what should be the goals of the business. Peter Drucker was telling us this 31 years ago. Most people still don’t get it.

What happens when the focus is majorly on “delighting” the customer?

Employees are asked to do anything and everything to hit this fake metric and “delight” some jobroni on the other side of a Wi-Fi connection who they’ve never met. Their work-life balance suffers, their boss yells at them about some phony metric three times a week, and turnover goes up.

Putting the customer at the center of your business ecosystem is a smart move (see also: Bezos’ bank account). But … you need to do something with employees too. Amazon, for example, is seemingly terrible with Fulfillment Center employees, but their Seattle white-collar flock seems to get paid well (they work long hours, yes). If the whole deal is “delighting customers,” well, you better make sure you’re at least “taking care” of employees, because someone burning the candle at both ends ain’t gonna delight too many people. Naw mean?

What’s the real reason behind ambiguous strategy?

Simple: It hoards information at the top levels, which is what the top levels want. Work is primarily around/about control. Honestly, for all the ink spilled on strategy the last two decades, most people working have no idea what the “strategy” of their company is. What they know is (a) their tasks, (b) their chain of command, and © that they get paid every so often. That’s it. “Strategy” is a thing that lives on executive spreadsheets, and by making the terms super vague — delight — it means that it can only truly be accessible to the people who want the access. The peons just need to grind on their task work. Won’t we have robots and software suites to do that stuff soon enough?

What would an actual customer strategy be?

Let’s try it:

  • Survey scores within X-range

These are logistical markers and not “strategy,” per se — many strategies suck, and I guess I am also guilty — but it’s a bit more direct and far-reaching than simply “delight based on a survey score, which can easily be manipulated or over-focused upon to achieve said delight, all the while with John from Customer Ops never seeing his daughters grow up.”

But please, try to be somewhat specific in what you discuss as core goals and approaches of your company. Leave the bullshit for the political discussions on Facebook, OK?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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