The customer: a partner, not a king

Customer centricity The customer: a partner, not a king

Published on 07.09.2021 by Prof. Dr. rer. pol. Nils Hafner, Professor of Customer Management at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

We are all familiar with the phrase: “The customer is king!” But it isn’t true. In fact, it’s completely wrong! And yet it still comes up repeatedly during “town hall speeches” from board members. It’s time this stopped. And I’d like to tell you why.

In an absolute monarchy, a court jester has to do whatever the king wants. What does this mean in our modern world, in which the customer is supposedly “king”? Just for the fun of it, let’s look at a scenario where the customer is king, and the company – to put it simply – is the court jester. In the real world, what does an entrepreneur do when, for example, King Customer wants more entertainment? Correct: the court jester demands more money from the king, because he is doing more, for example, providing additional jokes. This is a bit different from a traditional monarchy. And this tells us that the relationship with today’s customers is not that of king and subject, but more of a partnership.

We have been talking about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in theory and practice since the early 2000s – a little over 20 years. The basic idea is to learn from customers over the course of a long-term relationship and to provide exactly what they expect from a company. Today, this is easier and cheaper than ever before, because customers reveal a great deal about their needs and demands – via social media, on the company website, in chat, on the phone and at the branch. With digitization, companies can use data and information to anticipate a lot of what customers actually want, even before they arrive at a store or branch. Customers are constantly sending signals about how they imagine their relationship with a company.

It’s now a matter of recognizing these signals, interpreting them appropriately and applying them to the products and services so that added value is created for the company and its customers. When doing this, it’s essential to understand that every customer is a partner and not a king. A king issues decrees and gives nothing in return. He satisfies his whims at the company’s expense. He is the king, after all. A company with only kings as customers, would soon go bankrupt.

It’s better to look at it like this: customers have needs and pay the company to satisfy them – not just with money, but also with data, information or recommendations. The easier, safer and less stressful the company makes this process, the more customers pay. Here too, digitization provides new possibilities, because it provides new touchpoints for initiating dialogue. We used to talk about channels, but a channel only ever flows in one direction and is limited on either side. This is not the case with modern customer communication. Customers expect a company to know what they communicated to them online, including at their prime-location physical shop. And they prefer a dialogue that meets them at their own level across every touchpoint. Above all, customers love anything that answers their key questions quickly and competently.

It’s also important to guarantee an excellent customer experience across all points of contact. Because customers want to be addressed as an individual, at least if the company is going to provide them with an offer that they consider worthwhile. This means that the company must have good insight into the lives of customers and understand what they want. A lot of this is simply common sense. In e-commerce, for example, eight customer questions are particularly relevant:

  1. Where can I find the stuff I need right now?
  2. Is my stuff available?
  3. Have I really ordered my stuff now?
  4. Where is my stuff right now?
  5. When will my stuff get to me?
  6. The stuff is faulty, broken or bad or I don’t like it anymore – how do I send it back?
  7. The stuff I ordered recently – what was it again? Can I order it again?
  8. Back to the beginning – INFINITE LOOP

Communication is only really relevant if it addresses these questions. In that case, modern consumers will also respond to advertising. Everything else ends up in the bin. Note: you can also chat a relationship to death.

If customers realize that a company understands their needs and responds adequately to them, that it has the right products and services for them and draws their attention to these things at the right time, they will become referrers. Exactly this has to be the goal of modern CRM. And it’s worth it. Nowadays, it’s clear in the vast majority of industries that referrers buy significantly more products from a company, remain its customers for longer and recommend it to others far more often. So what does it mean for profitability development if we can turn dissatisfied and disappointed customers into referrals through outstanding customer management? According to analyses by management consultancies, customers of a retail bank in Germany, for example, become up to 60 percent more profitable for the bank. So it pays to invest in the customer relationship.


Due to the current situation, Connecta Bern will once again be held as a digital event in 2021. Connecta is renowned for shining a light on the diverse nature of digitization and this year will be no different with content presented across the three formats of Connecta Blog, Connecta TV and Connecta Talk. Find out more here:


Prof. Dr. rer. pol. Nils Hafner, Professor of Customer Management at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

Prof. Dr. rer. pol. Nils Hafner is an international expert in building long-term, profitable customer relationships. He is Professor of Customer Management at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. He is also an author, keynote speaker and consultant.

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