January 6, 2015 Tom Allin

Is Being Customer-Focused a Bad Thing?

Clearly, I’m not doing my job. Even more disconcertingly, I’m not certain anyone else in marketing is either.

Here’s why: Late last year, despite consistent profits (including a record profit in 2013) and positive consumer reviews (10 consecutive Customer Satisfaction Honors by J.D. Power), JetBlue was slammed for being “an overly brand-conscious and customer-focused airline.”

Now, considering that it is my job to be “brand-conscious” and “customer-focused,” the idea that a company could be too much of either came as both a surprise and, to be honest, an affront. Assuming you’re making a healthy profit, is it even possible to be too customer-focused?

Turns out, the answer was yes. In a move that can only be described (reading the aforementioned article further) as NOT customer-focused, JetBlue increased the number of seats in their cabins (aka less leg/personal space) and began to charge for previously free services, like bags and Wi-Fi.

Tim Wu over at The New Yorker recently wrote a provocative post, entitled “Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer.” As he explains, fees associated with extra legroom, faster boarding, and Wi-Fi (to name a few) are a major source of revenue for airlines. Specifically, he writes, “In 2013, the major airlines combined made about $31.5 billion in income from fees, as well as other ancillaries, such as redeeming credit-card points.”

The problem, as Wu points out, is that “in order for fees to work, there needs to be something worth paying to avoid.” So, for example, there has to be so little leg space that I’m compelled to pay extra for more.

I’m a tall guy who packs light; I haven’t had legroom or a checked bag in years. As long as my in-flight experience is pleasant enough, I’m okay. But, for everyday customers, it’s easy to see the difference between decisions for customers and decisions at the expense of customers.

Which brings me back to my job. At what point did I – and the rest of the advertising world – stop making a compelling argument that customers matter a lot? When did we allow being “customer-focused” to become a bad thing?

I suggest taking the long view with your customers. Consciously cultivate your relationship and show them they matter to you. If you’re so focused on your bottom line that you forget your customers, you may end up with nothing on the bottom line at all.

After all, without your customers, what else do you really have?

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