What Does It Mean To Be “Customer-Centric”?



Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Our mission is to support our stores so that they are able to do what is most important in retail — serve our customers' needs.

The mission of ___________ is dedication 

to the highest quality of Customer Service

delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, 

individual pride, and Company Spirit. 


What do these 3 mission statements have in common?  The answer - several things actually, however the most obvious is these companies are“customer-centric”!  


Wikipedia describes customer-centric as follows:


Customer centricity refers to the orientation of a company to the needs and behaviors  of its customers, rather than internal drivers (such as the quest for short term profit).

So why does it seem like we can count the truly customer centric companies on our on our god-given digits?  Why don’t more companies get it?  I think Wikipedia highlights the most plausible excuse - “the quest for short term profit”.   

I acknowledge that this is not a new debate.  As a matter of fact, I’d venture to say this conversation has been going on since Caesar invented his famous salad.  Let me set the record straight.  Profit makes the world go round.  My point is when profit dominates the conversation it is detrimental.  I don’t think I have to provide you with the obits of the companies that have croaked because short term profits became way too important...

Here’s my hypothesis on what happens to companies.  This and $2.70 will get you a Grande Americano at Starbucks.  I believe that companies have the best intentions; in general they want the customer to be #1.  However as organizations grow, fear creeps into their psyche and they worry too much about protecting their profit margins.  The day to day conversations become more about profit and less about the customer.  It’s easy to justify the focus on profit because after all we are in the business to make money, aren’t we?  

Here’s the rub.  You can’t lead with both.  You certainly can (and must) talk about both but when your brand ambassadors (your front line employees) get a sense that you are talking out of both sides of your mouth, the focus on customers will be minimized.  

The changed marketplace adds to the conundrum.  Think about it... Today consumers are more savvy and they have more choices.  This presents a challenge for all brands in all segments. People are not as interested in what you say as they are in what other consumers say about your product and they can access this information at the click of a mouse.  

Bottom line you can no longer provide lip service on how customers are #1.  If you don’t deliver (with no strings attached), they’ll be outta your place faster than a speeding bullet.  Let’s not even think about the collateral damage that can occur in this situation.  

There are so many positives inherent in this new world of connected transparency for companies who get it.  The key is to create a culture that is customer-centric then do everything within your power to make sure that your culture is never compromised.  Embrace this thought of “connected transparency”.  If you try to hide or even sit on the fence, your chances for success will be limited.

In case you were wondering the mission statement examples come from Starbucks, The Container Store and Southwest Airlines.  Three companies whose financial results speak for themselves.  Interestingly enough not a single one of them mentions profit in their mission statement.  They understand you have to lead with something and all three companies have chosen the customer!

I’d love to hear some comments on companies you think are customer-centric!     


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  • Em - That's what it takes.  An everyday focus.  I think the key make sure it doesn't become a drone, you know same ole, same ole.  Managers need to be creative in the way the encourage their employees to work as a team to provide the ultimate customer service experiences.  Summer Camp will be a blast.  Are you a Giants fan too?  Have a wonderful day!  Enthusiastically Yours, B
  • MD:  Love your approach.  Anybody can hire and train robots.  The way you separate yourself is by hiring creative, talented people.  You are so right when talk about the "lack of proper training".  Seems in the restaurant business we have this mentality that server training lasts a week to 10 days then it's done.  It needs to be on-going as I'm sure it is in your business.  I'm really interested to hear more about your philosophy on customer service and what you do to keep your customer service game at a high level.  I think you are right about service in the states.  Many servers appear to be going through the motions.  They need to learn how to engage in a genuine way.  Thanks for reading my blog and thanks for your thoughtful comment.  I hope we can continue the dialogue.  BTW have you read anything written by Daniel Pink?
  • Jim I love it.  Thought provoking is awesome.  That's why I like to play in this space.  I figured you'd be a fan of Robert Gates.  Straight shooter and as you said in he totally understands what goes on in the trenches.  Keep on provoking Jim and have an awesome day.  Enthusiastically Yours,  BC
  • BC:  Huge fan of Mr. Gates.  Now some people might fine your rant a stretch, but I don't becasue here is the common thread.  Mr. Gates never lost touch what was happening in the trenches.  Great leaders don't, but unfortunately some do as their organizations grow.  Case in point Howard Schultz, Starbucks went off course then he had to step back in, understand the day to day (a.k.a trenches).  The next great leader that is going to be challenged will be Stephen Elis.  To me why go Asian as you grow when you have not totally solved supply chain for your concept.  Now aren't I being thought provoking.


  • Bill, the way CCF gets their staff to take off the blinders and see outside their own section is to talk about it everyday. They have "daily alignments" where they talk about how we can improve as servers, as a company and as individuals. We talk about team work and helping out our neighbor's sections. I know, as a server, that if guests in my section ask another team member for something they will follow through on that. In turn, I help other guests as well. We are a team and the goal is for our guest to leave satisfied. 

    I am SO excited to get to know you as well at PRSC! I'm looking forward to learning from and getting to know this stellar group. 

  • Jim thanks for reading my blog and commenting.  I totally agree with you regarding the breakdown that seems to come with growth.  There are exceptions and I also agree that Nordstrom is one of them.  I also realize that to a certain extent it is a balancing act.  This is probably way off the subject but I don't know if you saw 60 minutes last Sunday where they did a feature on Robert Gates Secretary of Defense.  Been working for the defense department for like 30 years.  While this is an extreme example, I think I can draw an analogy.  During the height of the war in Iraq he was able to secure funding for $30 billion to replace the Humvee with MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles).  These new vehicles can  protect our troops from the devastating effects of roadside bombs (and other high powered attacks). I'm not trying to get into a discussion about politics, however he had to fight through the bureaucracy at the Pentagon to get the funding.  In his mind there is nothing more important than keeping our soldiers alive.  A concept I support wholeheartedly.  They refer to Robert Gates as "The Soldiers Secretary" because he understands that their safety has to take precedence.  I told you it was an extreme example.  Back to being "customer-centric".  It takes strong leadership and an unwavering commitment to stay focused on protecting the customer.  I would never compare the value of customer to the value of a soldier's life. However I believe business leaders must take a stand for the customer and make keeping customers their top priority, just as Mr. Gates has done for our troops.  Even though it's a stretch, I was so inspired by the Robert Gates story, I just had to use it.  WOW sorry for the verbose response Jim.  Passionate, relentless commitment is what it takes.  Thanks so much for allowing me to rant.  Enthusiastically, BC
  • Hello, intrigued by your post as well. European born, trained and accustomed to the high end etiquette of service. Have been in awe at the fake friendly service back here and lack of proper training.  My goals in our past and present hospitality ventures is to provide customers with true service.  It's not about the money in the drawer today, but longevity of profitability with our guest in the spotlight, a home away from home. Have them actively involved instead of passively. We only hire creative and talented people, not people who want a job, people that can think out of the box and want to join something great. With our open door management policies we've again created a true "familia" style team, a positive energy that rubs off on our guest.
  • I enjoyed reading your post this mornng Bill. Two thoughts: 1.) I understand your point re: profits, but I also think as a company grows so does their culture. As a result, in their quest to be customer centric something breaks down in the process amongst its people - silos begin to surface between departments, within departments, communication inbound & outbound meltdown, etc. Not sure what it is, but I think it is correlated to size/crtiical mass; and 2.) There are the exceptions: Nordstrom
  • Em - thanks for the comment!  I appreciate  you taking the time to read my blog.  I love to hear about companies that don't just give it lip service.  For me "create" is all about the art of service.  The science will only get you in the game.  To win the brand ambassadors must be allowed to create.  I've only been to Cheesecake a couple of times but I do have a positive impression of the brand based on those experiences.  I love "every guest is your guest" which I think in many environments is easier said than done.  What did Cheesecake do to push people to see the entire restaurant, not just their section?  Can't wait to talk to you more about this topic at Summer Camp next month.  Have a great day.  I can just imagine you and Sarah make quite the one-two punch for FohBoh!  Look forward to meeting you.
  • Hi Bill, I worked for The Cheesecake Factory for many years and they are definitely a company who puts their customers first. Their mission statement is "To create an environment where absolute guest satisfaction is the highest priority." They like to way heavy on the "to create" part of that statement and they talk with staff members on a daily basis about how they can go above and beyond to "create" that environment for their guests. Staff members also embody one of their daily commitments that "every guest is your guest." I have no doubts that this is one of the driving forces in all the success that they have and will continue to achieve.
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