Those of you tracking the Thriveal blog for a while may have noticed one of the themes I’ve been exploring over time through my posts is: where is the practice of accounting headed? Entries on that topic include: A Profession In Search of an Identity, The Firm(s) of the Future(s), Accounting Is Not the Language of Business, and the most recent: Accounting For What. In that post, I came right up to, but didn’t take, the last leap in the hopscotch of the thought process, which is what I’d like to share now: “The customer is the product.”
I first heard that phrase uttered by good friend and Verasage founder, Ron Baker, at a conference last fall and it caused me to do a full stop in my tracks. I realized I can be focused on what we’re selling, and changing our offerings, and marketing our products and services, and on and on. But the truth of the matter is, it’s the customer that’s the product. And what I do is best measured by how it changes their lives.
What we do is best measured by how it changes our customers’ lives.
Now it doesn’t have to be lifealtering, youwillneverbethesameagain, stuff. We did, after all, just file a tax return. But I’m not going to rule out what can happen through the process of preparing that tax return either. What happens when one person comes into contact with another, open to possibilities. And I will suggest that actually thinking you’re selling a tax return can cause you to miss the truth of what’s happening beneath the surface.
Grocery chains can actually make the same mistake too. They think they’re selling food. Make it cheaper. Make it faster. Make it longer lasting. (Hmm, haven’t we all said this one time or another?) And now at least half the store is full of food that actually isn’t food, and is somewhere between neutral, to actually harmful. In a very real way, the customer becomes the product in that industry: and the food we’ve been eating is slowly eating away at the health of our bodies.
Then you get a store like Whole Foods, who recognizes that what it’s about is actually helping people to eat healthily. And that mindset influences every decision they make on how to run the company. Check out their Healthy Eating webpage to see the ways they communicate it. They understand: the customer is the product.
Do we understand it too? Have we consciously designed our offerings around what would be truly helpful to the people we serve? If we can see past the things, to the persons, we open the door on possibilities.
Let me a propose a maxim (which isn’t original to me by the way): ‘the human person is, and ought to be, the proper end of our endeavors.’ Which is philosopherspeak for: it’s the people that matter.
When developing our businesses, we are often advised to describe our ideal customer so that we can recognize them when they walk through our doors: what industry are they in?, what’s their revenue size?, what type of personality might they have?, etc. I might suggest we also ask a second question: describe how your ideal customer looks when they walk out of your doors: what’s different about them for having worked with you? over 1 month, over 10 years? how have they changed? where have you guided them to? What have you been able to help them accomplish in their lives?
Behind these questions is the ultimate question: how do you believe what you do leads to the better well being of your customers? That is the belief that will begin to fuel your business’ innovations and its service to others.
Business itself is a belief. And how we conduct it, reveals what we believe.
(As a side note, the principle that ‘the customer is the product,’ also has the potential to completely change how you price the product. But that’s for another time.)
Adrian G. Simmons is a CPA innovating ways to put money in its place. After working as an auditor out of college for KPMG, he joined his father in public practice in 2002, and now acts as the Chief Creative Designer there. With the team, he looks for ways to help their customers become financially strong, so that they can focus on what truly matters in life. Adrian likes tech, uses a fountain pen, successfully attempted a half-marathon (and may try another), and prefers dark over milk chocolate.