Urgently required: a department of the customer

Published on the 07/07/2015 | Written by Gerry McGovern

dept of the customer

Focused on sales and marketing, most companies don’t advocate for their customers, argues customer experience expert Gerry McGovern. He makes the case for a department of the customer…

Consider most organisations: there is a department of selling to the customer; a department of marketing to the customer; a department of communicating at the customer; there is even a department of dealing with customer complaints – but there is no department OF the customer. None of the other departments really care about the customer. None of them see it as their job to keep the best interests of the customer in mind. Not one is the champion and defender of the customer when marketing or sales says ‘we need to publish this ad banner’, or ‘we need to force them to sign up to this content’, or when someone in pricing wants to milk loyal customers by increasing the prices they pay.

In most organisations there is simply no department that is there just for the customers. All the departments are lined up to sell something to or get something from the customer. Support is only there for those customers who are really in trouble. I’ve been in so many meetings over the years where the voice of the customer (or the voice of the employee, for that matter) is rarely, if ever, heard. There might be one or two isolated voices, but they’re not listened to and instead are often seen as troublemakers.

I remember once sitting in on a presentation where a group of marketers were presenting new product ideas and programmes. Almost in unison, they said to the web manager: “And we’ll be coming to you to get a banner on the homepage.”

Said homepage was a cluttered mess and most of the web manager’s week was spent fighting off requests for banners and other marketing and management ego content.

This website had a carousel for its banners. The web manager readily admitted that it was useless, that in fact it was counterproductive. But he said the reason it stayed was to keep marketing and management egos at bay. “They like interactive things,” he said. “Things that move and are flashy and dominate the page; and you can essentially deal with five ego requests in the one space.”

“[If] you’re just an entry-level position,” a customer service representative who worked for a home security company recently stated. “You just do what you’re told.” Does it make sense that the employees who interact directly with customers have so little value to the organisation?

More than 70 percent of salespeople, responding to a Dreamforce 2014 Conference survey, said their companies have lost a customer or sale due to poor performance or reputation related to customer support.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal in February 2015, 74 percent of executives state their top 2015 priority is improving customer experience. Yet, Forrester Research has found that “only 25 percent of customer experience (CX) professionals say their company’s CX programmes actually improve customer experience”. We need a radical rethink. The old organisational structures are simply not fit for this Age of the Customer. We need a Department of the Customer that has real power to champion the needs of the customer, to fight for their rights.

These are exciting times. Yes, they’re challenging, but there aren’t too many periods when the nature and structure of the organisation is forced to change. And this is one of those periods.


Gerry McGovern is founder and CEO of Customer Carewords, which has developed tools and methods to help large organisations identify and optimise their customers’ top online tasks. He has written five books on how the web has facilitated the rise of customer power.

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