The Purpose of a Business is to Create and Keep a Customer

"The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer." - Peter Drucker

No matter how many times we say it, we forget it. We get caught up in operations, or competition, or marketshare, or share price. Yet a business, like a life, has a purpose: to create and keep a customer. I might add, "to keep that customer profitably satisfied."

Earlier this month, a very well known Apple developer, one of the "super fanboys" (yes, there really is such a term), Marco Arment, wrote an article decrying Apple's loss of the high ground - both functional and moral - in its products. While Marco did try to backtrack a bit, due to the firestorm his piece generated, the train had already left the station. This was not due to hatred in the anti-Apple camp, but rather because Marco's plea touched a nerve among many longtime Apple customers and developers, including this author.

The number of follow-ups is far too great to mention, but here are three that are particularly salient, because they are focused more on fixing and less on complaining.

  • Glenn Fleishman published a detailed list on his blog (called a "glog", as in "Glenn log", as opposed to "blog", short for "Web log"; brilliant) of the major things that are broken in iOS and OS X that Apple needs to fix ASAP.
  • Kirk McElhearn released a plea on Macworld for fixing iTunes syncing. Actually, what he really is asking for is better iTunes and better syncing, independently and/or together. Syncing is a such a crucial part of how we use our smartphones as media devices that making it painful or non-functional cuts to the heart of the usability experience. If you cannot sync, not only does it not longer "just work", it does not work at all. I raised the exact same issue in my own article on making it "just work," including that other, simpler models, like VLC's, while less fancy, seem far more reliable.
  • Joe Dunn at Cloudbreak went straight for the culture that enables such shoddy work. This is especially surprising but necessary at a company that, for most of its history, had its employees living in fear of presenting products that were not elegant or beautiful enough, lest Jobs tear into them. Releasing something that actually didn't work would have been absolutely terrifying.

Each of these three people takes a different approach.

Glenn Fleishman provides a practical, product-manager-driven approach. Implicit in Glenn's article may be an accusation that Apple's product management has fallen down on the job. Apple's own product managers should have created and maintained this list, based on their own experiences and interacting with customers. Indeed, detailing and prioritizing what needs to be released when and why it matters is the number one job for product management.

Kirk McElhearn focuses on the Achilles heel, the weakness that can bring down an edifice. "If I cannot sync my music, movies and documents, what's the point?" Losing sight of the basic requirements in favour of fancy features can only happen if you lose sight of your customers or, more precisely, lose empathy with your customers.

Finally, Joe Dunn analyzes how a company can fall into the very trap of losing sight of and empathy with its customers, and how to fix it. This is precisely in line with my recent discussion about airlines leaving customers in the lurch and employees with no way or incentive to help them. Joe lists several points, all of which are important, but they all boil down to this: always be your customer.

I don't mean, "always use your own products" (in tech industry language, originally used at IBM, "eat your own lunch"), although that is necessary. Rather, more broadly, always live, breathe, eat, empathize with your customers. When they feel pain, feel their pain (not politically, like Clinton, but like a parent with a child); when they feel joy, celebrate their joy; when they wish something would get better, make it your mission to make it better as if it were your own wish, because it is.

This is how you create and keep customers.

How do you keep them profitably? That is all about the operations side of the business, the  equal partner of the product and market side, as we discussed before.

Business Life Lessons

  1. Always know exactly who your customers are, and why they want your products.
  2. Continually live, breathe, eat and empathize with those customers until they are as close to your heart as your family.
  3. Consistently operate with that empathy... profitably. Why? So that you can continue to serve them better.

If you have the slightest doubt that you know them, are empathizing with them, or are delivering profitably to them and for the right reason, get someone to help. Ask us.