Saturday, May 7, 2011

Who Owns the Customer?

The Salesperson turns in the big contract, the account gets implemented by the Order group and then is handed over to the Customer Service team to monitor and cultivate; the Operation staff maintains the product line, IT monitors the functionality of the platforms, and Finance processes the revenues.

So who owns the Customer?

The Company will tell you the “Company” does.  This position certainly has merits as all the above sections of a corporation work together to form the core of the “Company”.  Since everyone draws a paycheck from the “Company”, at first glance I would tend to agree. 

However, here’s the million dollar question … since it is the customer’s existence which drives revenues for the company, the real answer to this question lies within “who does the Customer believe their business belongs to”? 
I guess it really depends on the type of product we’re talking about.  If it is a television, I would tend to lean towards the “company” definitely owning the Customer.  If your 6 month old 50” Sony TV 
 (sorry folks at Sony, I had to use somebody’s brand as an example –this in no way implies I’ve had problems with any Sony products, I’ve actually had great stuff from Sony over the years)
suddenly went blank, I’m sure we’d all be on the phone to Sony ASAP.  You wouldn’t try and contact the sales clerk who rang in the sale at Target.  You’d Google or Bing “Sony TV repairs” and you’d be on your way. 
Now let’s look at another product:  your car.  I know when I buy a car, I hold the salesperson from the dealership responsible for that vehicle until I sell or trade it.  If my car breaks down, I call the salesperson who 99% of the time will gladly take your call and arrange for service and in most cases, a replacement car while your’s is in the shop.  This is an example of taking ownership and “farming” your account base.  Take care of your customer and when your customer wants to buy additional services (in this case, a new car) they’ll more than likely call you.  In this example, it is the salesperson who owns the Customer.  Many car salesmen will change dealerships and even brands throughout the years, but maintain their repeat customer base as they move because of the service they provide to their customers.  Underappreciate your existing base, and they will surely go to your competition when the time to buy additional service or product rolls around.
Another example in my life experience is dentists.  I have a dental hygienist who I’ve been using for more than 20 years.  She’s worked with at least 4 different dentists throughout the years and each time she’s moved, I’ve gone with her to the new dentist.  It really had nothing to do with the quality of the dentist or support staffs they had, I simply like the hygienist and wanted to stay with her.  As she had a sizable following like myself who would move with her, she brought value to her new positions and was able to negotiate improved employment packages with each change.  In this case, the hygienist (I liken her to an operations staff employee), not the dentist, owns the customer.
Over the years, how many times have we seen employees move from one company to another, and had to sit idly by as our customer base followed the former employee?  Companies know this too; that’s why “non-compete” clauses are often built into employment contracts.
The point of this discussion is to always remember, each and everyone of us like to think we made a good decision when buying a product or a service.  The difference is when we buy a tangible product like a toaster, we equate the product to the company.  When we buy a service or a service prone product (like a car or dental services), we equate the service to a person.  And people buy from people they like.  That person is not necessarily in a particular role within a company. Sometimes it may be the salesperson, sometimes it could be the Customer Service rep, or the IT staff member.  It really depends on the customer’s needs and the amount of interaction they have with the person in a particular role.
If you take nothing else from this post, remember the next time you are speaking to an existing client or a potential prospect, you only get one chance to earn their confidence.  Lose it, and you will most likely lose either a sale, or even worse, an existing client.
Take the time to think of how the customer will react to what you are about to tell them, consider all possible reactions, and proceed accordingly.  Treating the customers so they feel their business always comes first is a crucial step to building your reputation as a professional.   Whether you’re in sales, or finance, IT, customer service, or any other aspect of a company, the needs and potential reactions of the customer should always be considered first.
Ultimately, it's my opinion, regardless of your position within the company, if you do your best to make the customer feel their business is welcomed and applauded by the company, they will be a loyal and long term client.  If they feel like they are only a number, they will most likely either not buy from you or your company at all or they will remain a client for only a short period of time, until a more likeable personality comes across their professional path.
As this is only my opinion, I enjoy sharing any experiences any of my readers have had along these lines.  I welcome any comments or suggestions on the topic.
So, who do YOU think owns the Customer?
On Twitter @DaveHanron


  1. well done! draws important distinctions worth keeping in mind.

  2. It always happens actually, we tend to think that we made a good decision when buying a product or a service.

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  3. Sam, thanks for the comment. I believe the belief that a consumer has made a good buying decision is vital for keeping a client. It is my belief that it is the manner in which the Customer is handled after the sale which is critical. I feel it is the responsibility of the sales dept. to oversee the service on the account, to be sure the product they sold the Customer is the product or service that they actually experience.