Back in the day when most businesses were local, this was just how you did it. If you were the local butcher, you served your customers. The local florist or grocer, you served your customers. If you didn't carry the goods that you're audience wanted, you didn't sell things. If you didn't treat your customers well, they didn't buy from you. It wasn't some big, mysterious thing that required consultants teaching you how to do it, You just did.
My gut is that as companies stopped being local, that's when this change started. And, as I've written about before in No Man Can Serve Two Masters, I think it was really accelerated when businesses changed who they were serving, going from the customer to the shareholder. As I wrote then:
And unfortunately, these two masters are diametrically opposed to one another. The biggest challenge comes from the fact that shareholders, as a rule, don't really care about anything other then very short term results. Need to make the numbers for the month, just cut expenses. Quarter looking soft, layoff a bunch of people. It's all short term for them. And their only concern is making money, nothing else matters.
But, this is how most companies think. Their C-level staff is trying to serve those two masters and, not surprisingly, they're devoted to the shareholders and the customer ends up being despised. Too often, the C-level staff doesn't even care what the brand is. Didn't a study show that the average tenure of a CMO was 18 months? Well, that means they're only working about 14 month, because they're spending the last 4 months looking for their new gig. And when the C-level staff doesn't really care about the brand, there's no way the frontline staff is going to care.
What's interesting is that there are great examples out there of companies that do well for their customers and that's what drives shareholder value. I don't think that just focusing on shareholders will ever create the same value, not in the long terms anyway. I don't know how to change this focus, but one would think the large number of companies who have gone out of business trying to make Wall Street happy instead of their customers, would be enough incentive for companies to look at customers first.