Is Delighting The Customer Profitable?

Michael Lewis wrote in his book, Boomerangthat one hidden cause of the current global crisis was that the people who saw it coming had more to gain by taking short positions than by publicising the problem!

Below is a delightful and thought provoking article that radicalises your thinking. There is a need to unlearn traditional “making profits” to learning about “delighting customers” and why this creates more profits for you. Learn from the experience of firms you know such as GE, Apple and Walmart.

As always, if you need to delight your customer or transform your organisation for outside-inside innovation, or to create value, contact Customer Value Foundation

Enjoy, unlearn and learn

Gautam Mahajan
President-Customer Value Foundation
Mob: +91 9810060368

Is Delighting The Customer Profitable?

“Where does the profit motive fit in with these ideas of delighting the customer?”

Isn’t the purpose of business to make money? Isn’t all this stuff “delighting the customer” missing the obvious point that the bottom line of a firm is about making money? Won’t all these efforts to do more for customers raise costs and so undermine profitability? Isn’t there in effect a fundamental conflict between the true purpose of business, namely, making money and all this talk of outside-in innovation and delighting the customer?

The answer to whether delighting the customer is profitable is much simpler: yes!

Delighting the customer is hugely profitable

Delighting the customer,aka outside-in innovation, is not just profitable. It’s hugely profitable. That’s ultimately why it has become a business imperative. It explains why its conquest of the business world is inevitable. It’s not because the customers are more contented or because the people doing the work are happier or because it extends the life expectancy of a firm, generates jobs and fuels the growth of the economy. It does all those things, but the real driver of its inevitability is that it makes more money.

Just look at the ten-year share price of exemplar firms like Apple [APPL], Amazon [AMZN] and [CRM], with increases of around ten times to fifteen times. Compare that to traditional stalwarts like GE [GE], Walmart [WMT] and Intel [INTC], which struggle even to hold their share price constant.

Or look at the studies at the team level in software development where good implementations routinely result in two- to four-times gains in productivity.

Why is delighting the customer so profitable?

Delighting the customer is more profitable than traditional management (top-down inside-out management thinking) because there are gains on both prices and costs.

On pricing, firms that delight their customers have higher margins, because the customers just have to have the products and services that they love and they are willing to queue up for it and pay extra for it. Again, look at Apple: Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports that in the mobile phone market, Apple’s share of the worldwide cell phone market in terms of unit sales is only 4% but its share of the profits is 50%. Through innovation and customer delight, Apple taken over a market previously dominated by Nokia (NOK) and Research in Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry. As a result, Apple is selling iPhones as fast as it can make them and raking in huge profits in the process.

Costs also tend to come down for a number of reasons. One of the most important is that firms that delight their customers compete on time and get work done faster.

By contrast, in traditional hierarchical bureaucracies, with multiple vertical layers of authority and many different departments and divisions, work jams are occurring all over the organization on a daily basis: typically no one recognizes them or does anything about them. Work sits waiting in queues.  Approvals hold things up. Customers try to get answers and wait for responses. Well-intended cost savings implemented in one part of the organization are slowing things down in another part of the organization, retarding the overall delivery of value to customers. Big production runs are particularly problematic, because they maximize work in process and inventory, generating direct costs of working capital and warehousing, hiding quality problems, and causing noxious secondary effects.

When work gets done faster in order to delight customers, costs tend to come down of their own accord. George Stalk noted in 1989: “Capitalizing on time [is] a critical source of competitive advantage: shortening the planning loop in the product development cycle, trimming process time in the factory, drastically reducing sales and distribution—managing time the way most companies manage costs, quality, or inventory. In fact, as a strategic weapon, time is the equivalent of money, productivity, quality, even innovation.

The firm that has delighted customers also has the advantage of an unpaid marketing department. Its customers are delighted to sing its praises to friends and colleagues: the firm has only to sit back and watch. And the firm doesn’t have to spend time and money dealing with disgruntled customers or counteracting negative social media blitzes.

Why does anyone argue the opposite?

There are three common arguments often deployed to make the opposite case.

a. “A direct focus on making money gets better results.”

For some people, the idea that delighting customers is more profitable than a direct attack on making money is counter-intuitive. Surely a direct focus on making money will result in better results? Why not identify the goal clearly and go for it directly? 

This line of thinking ignores the principle of indirectness (or obliquity), which shows that in a complex interactive environment, a direct focus on a single goal can elicit reactions which tend to prevent the achievement of that goal.


Thus Roger Martin in his classic article, The Age of Customer Capitalism, (HBR, Jan 2010), shows how a focus on maximizing profitability tends to lead companies to do things that actually undermine long-term profitability. He writes:

The harder a CEO is pushed to increase shareholder value, the more the CEO will be tempted to make moves that actually hurt the shareholders. Take the poster boy for shareholder value maximization, Jack Welch. He is famous for transforming GE from a fi rm with a market capitalization of $13 billion in 1981 into the most valuable company in the world, worth $484 billion at his retirement, in 2001. Yet, to keep increasing shareholder value, Welch had to keep pushing the company to higher and higher growth. The biggest engine of growth at his disposal was an initially insignificant unit called GE Capital, which came to account for about half of GE’s earnings by the end of his career. Yet in 2009, GE took massive write-off s related to GE Capital and saw its market capitalization fall as low as $75 billion.

A focus on making money pushes a company towards making money through “bad profits” i.e. profits that come from acting in unscrupulous ways. As Fred Reichheld writes in The Ultimate Question (2006):

”Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value. When sales reps push overpriced or inappropriate products onto trusting customers, the reps are generating bad profits. When complex pricing schemes dupe customers into paying more than necessary to meet their needs, those pricing schemes are contributing to bad profits.”

b. “Delighting customers inevitably adds costs”

Then there is the notion that delighting customers implies always doing more than what the firm is already doing. The reality is that delighting customers often implies doing less. The trick in delighting customers is focus: aim for the simplest possible thing that will delight buyers. Don’t load products down with features that most people won’t use and that make the product hard to operate.  For instance, my DVD controller made by Sony has 54 buttons, most of which no one in our house knows how to use: it delights no one. By contrast, my iPod by Apple has just four buttons and delights everyone.

Moreover as noted above, by focusing on time and delivering products and services sooner, the costs of operations tend to come down of their own accord.

c. “Studies show it doesn’t work.”

The least plausible of the arguments is that laid out in an article entitled, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman (HBR, Jul-Aug 2010, pp 116-122). The authors did a study which they say shows that trying to delight your customer is counter-productive. What the study actually shows is that if you have a bunch of traditionally-managed bureaucratic command-and-control firms and “tell” the customer reps to “delight the customer,” you get rather poor results. It sheds no light at all on what happens when the whole organization devotes all its energies from the top to the bottom of the organization to delighting its clients and inspires its staff to embrace the goal and communicates with them, not by telling them what to do, but by conducting conversations and practicing deep listening.

The article is talking about a quick fix to a traditional command-and-control culture. Obviously, that doesn’t work. The idea that a command-and-control bureaucratic culture is fundamentally incompatible with an organization dedicated to delighting its clients is never addressed. The study sheds no light on the possibility of an organization in which delighting customers is part of the DNA of the entire firm.

To learn more

The real reason for resisting the shift towards customer capitalism is inertia. Delighting the customer means a fundamental shift in the way we think, speak and act in the workplace. For a comprehensive treatment of the principles and practices involved in delighting customers and outside-in innovation, read my book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management

Steve Denning

Source: Steve Denning, Contributor, Leadership 4/01/2011 @ 10:45AM |8,244 views

Contact Customer Value Foundation for help

Explore posts in the same categories: Business & Management

9 Comments on “Is Delighting The Customer Profitable?”

  1. I have been very impressed with your article’s of the week series.

    Jim Carras

  2. Many thanks for this interesting article. I’m not a management teacher, not even a student. But I
    believe that success of any business rests on its ability to meet the demands of its customers. The happier the customer, the more
    successful is the business. The customer is the reason for a business to be in business–he is the king and must, therefore, be respected and kept in good humour.

    Mr Vinod K. Dikshit
    Managing Editor
    Leadership Excellence

  3. Thanks very much Mr. Mahajan. The article made good reading.

    Mr Binod Malviya
    Managing Director
    Malviya Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd.

  4. I am impressed with your note below. It is indeed true..I have experienced it for the past 18 years, that I have been in the field of Sales & Marketing for global markets.

    It would be a pleasure to keep in contact.

    Mr Manoj Kabre
    Vice President – Marketing
    Indo-US MIM Tec

  5. Thanks for sharing the interesting and valuable insights.

    Mr RobindranathSom
    Chief Operating Officer
    Sovereign Tech Engineering Services Pvt. Ltd.

  6. Thanks for sharing the valued information.

    MI Khan

  7. Great article. Really appreciate it!

    Mr Eric Fraterman
    Customer Focus Consulting

  8. Thank you for your information, which can provoke positive thinking.

    Mr N. V. Srinivasan
    Chief Consultant
    N.V. Associates

  9. I think that we have the same idea and are approaching it from different, although, complimentary perspectives.

    Mr Steven Pinchuk
    Founder and President
    Profit Optimization Strategies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: