Ariel Simpson


Three Keys to Being a Customer-Centric Leader

[By Ariel Simpson, originally published May 2021 at]

When creating a new product or service or even an entire business, it’s common to make profit your goal. How can you stay in business without making money? But focusing on profit is likely to take you down a toxic path full of cost-cutting, unwanted products, and burnt out employees. Instead, try these three steps to making your customer the star of your business.

1. Start with the customer in mind

When you’re starting a business or creating a new product or service, don’t think about the beautiful gadget you want to make, think about the problem your customer is experiencing. You should be able to trace every project, every improvement, every hiring decision back to the customer problem you’re trying to solve. 

2. Gemba walk

“Gemba” is a Japanese term meaning “the actual place”.  Don’t make assumptions about your customer’s problems, go on a Gemba walk (go to the actual place where the problem is occurring) and observe them! Are you making a food delivery app? Go to a friend’s house and have them order delivery. Go to the restaurant and watch them prepping orders for pickup. Compare multiple restaurants and see where their processes differ.  Find out what works well and what could make it better. 

3. Shareholders come second

You are still likely to encounter a fairly old-school 1980’s “greed is good” stakeholder focus in a lot of companies. Many leaders still believe that prioritizing shareholder goals and maximizing profits is the best basis for decision making.  Don’t mis-hear me: shareholders are important! But if you are making all of your business decisions with the goal of maximizing profit, you are likely to get sucked into some ethical quagmires. 

Instead, base your decisions on the value they bring to your customer. Will this make your customer’s life easier or harder? Will this solve a problem? Will this build trust with your customer base?  Without a customer, your business doesn’t exist. Without solving a problem or presenting a benefit, the customer won’t give you money. In the words of Sam Walton, “There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Make the customer happy, and profits will follow.

Take-Aways: Provide value and solve customer problems with every product and service you offer. Trust that that will lead to profits and will build loyalty in your customers.

Questions: Do you agree? Disagree? What else helps you to focus on your customers and not become distracted?

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