Is The Customer Really King?

Way back in 1941, Kenneth B. Elliott, Vice President in Charge of Sales for The Studebaker Corporation, remarked in an interview:

“The customer is not an interruption of our work – he is the purpose of it.

The customer is not dependent upon us – we are dependent upon him.”

And yet, organizations all around us seem to go about their business as if the “customer” was entirely optional to their success. We may not be doing it intentionally, but many of us are guilty of this crime. Let me explain…

When we roll out bad design in a product or service, we disregard the customer. When we up-sell or cross-sell irrelevant offers to our customers, we disregard their wants. When we include a plethora of unnecessary terms and conditions hidden away in fine print, we disregard their needs. Muraleedhar Pai writes about this malady in his post on the Indian Unicorn, including offering some solutions for those who are willing to pay heed:

On what, how, when and why tell the customer, Indian e-businesses have long way to go. Most of them know content is king and do a good job – some very good. Context is built properly by one or two of them. But when it comes to relevance, they have a long long way to go. In the name of engaging the customer, most e-commerce players waste customer’s most important resource, her time.

Subroto Bagchi, in his advice column to a young (funded) entrepreneur, also found it fit to remind him of what matters most:

Since you are an internet company (well, who isn’t?), do not shift your eye from a fundamental reality: customers may interact with the business you are setting up in a virtual world, but always know, they live in the real world… spend time with your customers with religious regularity, immerse yourself in their world in which they use, not just buy, your product or service.

Put your “customer” hat on, and think back to all the times you struggled with any product or service. More often than not, it wasn’t because the organization didn’t work out the chinks in a highly complex offering, but because the fundamentals were lacking. Customer Service, Customer Engagement, Customer Delight – call it what you may; It doesn’t do much if your organizational culture is focused on internal workings and challenges, and loses sight of what they are working for.

Design matters. UX matters. So does listening to customer needs and trying your best to deliver on those needs. Finally, it helps to remember that your brand is lived, and experienced, in a hundred different moments of truth – from the payment gateway to the delivery boy.

Map out the process, and identify all the ways in which your customers interact with your brand. Then, look for the weak links and go about fixing them, one by one. It’s not that hard to do. And, the efforts will pay off significantly.

We are all human, and want similar things. Good products and services, at appropriate value, in a good experience. It’s not that hard to do.

Powerpoint vs Presentation

We live in an age where, no matter what function or department you work with, you will encounter the need to deliver a presentation on a topic of significance. And that means creating a “PPT” from scratch, and often, presenting it yourself. Now, I’ve spent two decades working with Powerpoint and know, first hand, that it’s not nearly as easy as it seems. Yes, any one with a mouse and a copy of Microsoft’s PowerPoint software can start “building slides”.  But, creating a presentation of Quality – that’s a different matter altogether.

Some argue that addressing an audience is an art, not a science. That you need charisma to make an impact. That leaders and speakers are born, not made. Others argue that they have, in fact, benefited from the countless resources on the Web (and in the real world) that offer the promise of making you a better speaker.

Be that as it may, how do you deliver a good presentation?

First of all, you need to accept that there is no substitute for “clarity of thought“. Just as knowledge of Photoshop does not make you a Van Gogh, knowing how to make a PowerPoint slide deck does not necessarily result in an impactful presentation. So take the time to study the topic before you, and jot down your thoughts (preferably on paper) on what you want to share with your audience.

Remember, presentations are about communicating an idea in the most effective manner possible – not about fancy fonts, packing your slides with a lot of data, or using animated transitions.

Here’s my list of points to keep in mind, the next time you face a Blank Slide template…

  • Keep it Simple : Less slides, less text, less data
  • Divide the content in the form of a story : Have a Start, a Middle and an End. (If you want to make a stronger impact, begin with the end!)
  • When you present any data, do mention its source
  • Use a lot of white-space and a large text size: Content should be readable from 20 feet away
  • While creating the presentation, don’t start each slide from scratch. Instead, take the slide with the most similar looking layout, copy-paste, and use that as the starting point. That way, all formatting will be consistent across your slide-deck.
  • Prepare for possible questions that may come up… and their answers!
  • If you display images/pictures/screenshots in your slide, post them prominently against a full-black or full-white background to make the graphic stand out without any distractions
  • If, inspite of good advice, you make a loooong presentation, summarize key points/conclusions at the end
  • If you’re going to present in a new room, get acquainted with it beforehand to reduce presentation stress
  • Check all audio-visual settings, seating arrangements, handouts, etc. well before the scheduled start
  • Lastly, keep your sense of humour!

Read PresentationZen’s Top 10 Slide Tips and Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule, before you even double-click on the PowerPoint icon – they both have some great tips for you to follow, regardless of the topic you’re presenting on. You can also bookmark AllTop’s rich resource on all things related to communication, here.

Simple is Hard

Inc. featured an excellent write-up on the design secrets of Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs entitled ‘Simple is Hard‘, and we couldn’t agree more. In it, Jim Schleckser argues that, “When it comes to designing our business processes and systems… When we don’t do the necessary work up front to create a design that is simple and elegant, we end up building products and services that are complex and cluttered. Put another way: Simple is hard.”

The fact is: What seems like a simple and elegant solution is often damn hard to design.

As a customer, you know exactly what we’re talking about, since it is certain that you have experienced many times, the frustrations that accompany badly-designed user interfaces on websites and apps, or even the way products are packaged for transit. Spend hours, or minutes, or even precious seconds dealing with “bad design”, and it rapidly takes the joy out of the equation, making the entire experience unpleasant.

On the other hand, when we encounter a beautifully-designed product or service, we thoroughly enjoy the process of interacting with it. And, want to share it with others we care about. And, keep coming back to it for more, resulting in the ultimate benefit for those who created it in the first place – customer loyalty.

Yet, when it comes to putting resources where they matter, most organizations do not show an appreciation for “good design”, or seek help where they need it the most – hiring an expert to improve the User Experience of their shiny, new product or service. Sadly, “design” is often an after-thought on the project – a layer that (you think) you can slap-on to make the thing look pretty. That is a far cry from espousing the philosophy of Steve Jobs that, “Design is how it works!”

So, if you are in a position to influence the process even a little, the next time you get the opportunity to work on a project/product/service, take the time to reflect on your own experiences as a customer, and invest the effort (and resources) required to create something that will be a joy to use. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s worth the effort it takes.

Leonardo da Vinci nailed it when he remarked, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Three Choices

In the era of The Long Tail, new business enterprises need to make some key choices to succeed.

A post from Seth Godin highlights the choices involved in offering higher education:

Should this be scarce or abundant?

Should this be free or expensive?

Should this be about school or about learning?

As it turns out, all you need to do is replace the last one with its generic equivalent:

  1. Should this be scarce or abundant?
  2. Should this be free or expensive?
  3. Should this be about what used to matter or what really matters today?

Think about it. Three choices. And, the answers will make all the difference.

Built to Last

A trail of links from LinkedIn led me to an excellent essay on FastCompany entitled ‘8 Rules For Creating a Passionate Work Culture’. In it, the author – Paul Alofs – profiles the rules on the foundation of which an empire can be built:

1. Hire the right people
2. Communicate
3. Tend to the weeds
4. Work hard, play hard
5. Be ambitious
6. Celebrate differences
7. Create the space
8. Take the long view

The rules seem simple… maybe too simple. But, there is a lot of wisdom in those paragraphs. For instance, most of us know that hiring the right people is critical to success, but don’t exactly know how to go about it. Alofs offers many helpful hints…

There is no shortage of impressive CVs out there, but you should try to find people who are interested in the same things you are. Asking the right questions is key: What do you love about your chosen career? What inspires you? What courses in school did you dread? You want to get a sense of what the potential employee believes.


If you had a dozen straight-A students who were from the same socio-economic background and the same geographical area, you might not get much in the way of interesting debate or interaction. Great cultures are built on a diversity of background, experience, and interests. These differences generate energy, which is critical to any enterprise.

Read the entire post. And, make an attempt to put it to action.