“The purpose of business is to create a customer.” – Peter Drucker
“Organizations are established to serve human needs. There is no other reason for their existence.” – Stephen R. Covey
It would seem clear that so many organizations have things a little mixed up. When you are a customer, how much do you feel that things are in your favor? How often does it seem you are first and that business’s intentions are good?
Think about the number of times big business has done despicable things that make it clear that customers are not the priority, rather, keeping profits high is really what matters. For example, Toyota, when it was clear there was a problem with cars accelerating out of control, sat and did nothing until pressure got so high that they had to take action even though people (customers) had died. Think about airlines who, even though planes had crashed where, again, people died, waited for a government mandate before grounding dangerous planes. Then there’s the blatant disregard of banks who, solely to maximize profit, sold mortgages to people they knew couldn’t reasonably afford to pay. All of these examples and many more drive home the fact that so many businesses have lost the plot. They have made the lust for money the goal rather than success in serving those who come to them for help.
This points to a fundamental disconnect that should be clear if you ponder the quotes above. Without customers, members, students, or whoever an organization serves, there is no reason to exist. At the base of all organizations is one single indisputable truth, the only reason for them to be is to help people accomplish things. Thus, all organizations are in the service business.
One of my favorite TV shows is an old one but great one, The West Wing, a drama about work and life in the White House. A regular phrase used by various characters was “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” This phrase comes from another similar one “I serve at Her Majesty’s pleasure” which was used to convey a kind of absolute unquestioning loyalty and subservience to monarchical leaders. Essentially, both phrases suggest that the person employed is only in their job because the leader wants them there and they can be removed at that leader’s whim.
Organizations should adapt that phrase supplanting leader for customer, member, or student. If every organization truly understood that they serve only at the pleasure of their customers, members, or students, how would things change? If every organization really understood and got anxious at the thought their customers, members, or students could fire them at any time, how would things change? What if customers, members, and students understood their real power to force companies to care about them?
Here’s the bottom-line question: Does your organization truly understand that they only exist at the pleasure of those they serve? If not, how can you make it clear?
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