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What customer advocates have in common with Christopher Columbus

In my last entry, I wrote about the importance of keeping a long-term perspective as a customer advocate. This is because the history of business has taught us that in order for companies to succeed over a long time period they must be customer-focused.   I consider myself a history buff and I enjoy making historical analogies to all sorts of life’s challenges. I love history because I think it has a lot to teach us about the present and helps us keep things in their proper perspective.

Because of the business I have chosen, I like studying the history of business, generally, and more specifically, the history of applying measurement science to solve business problems. In this entry, I plan to give you a little of each and perhaps, keep you motivated in these trying times.

There is a lot of talk about how difficult the economy is right now. Some of you have even shared that the value of customer advocacy is being questioned. This is scary and threatening, but the good news is that it will pass. Peter Drucker wrote in 1957 that “the objective of business is to attract and retain customers.” That was 51 years ago! Think of all the turmoil and unrest the world has been through over that period of time.
Another lesson of history during tough times is it often caused people to set out for new opportunities. One of my favorite history books is “The Discoverers” by Daniel Boorstin. In this book, he organizes history not chronologically, but by how and why things that we now know are true, came to be despite obstacles and challenges.

In the middle ages, things were tough in Europe so some brave guys like Columbus, Magellan, Sir Francis Drake, de Soto and many others set off to discover new worlds at a time when most people thought the world was flat. These guys were the gutsiest people of the times—like modern day astronauts or test pilots. In these days, the business of map making was far from a perfect science. In fact, most of the maps were produced by cartographers and they were more artists, than surveyors. They endeavored to please a king or other ruler and tended to overstate land and empires. This might make the king feel good, but not too helpful to a sailor if it turns out that the rocks are where they the sea was supposed to be. Experienced sailors could judge latitude by looking at the sun, moon, and stars—assuming that it wasn’t cloudy. Longitude was a different deal all together because it requires an accurate measure of time and the state-of-the-art in time-keeping was the pendulum.   These guys were setting out to explore the west with no idea where or how far they needed to go, and with information that was poor. Talk about guts! Many people thought they were mad or they were wasting time and resources.

While clearly not nearly as dangerous, such is the job of today’s customer advocate.  Even though times are tough, we must continue to explore the complex relationships, discover new truths, map the route to success and produce an increasingly accurate picture of management information that others can use successfully.

The next time someone challenges the importance of our customer focus and the importance of factually understanding how to improve these relationships, consider the analogy of the explorers.  Are they discounting the exploration because they are cartographers, kings, or disbelievers?  Or are they truly interested in finding out the truth that is left only to the discoverers?  History shows us which will endure in the end.    

This post was originally published December 16, 2008 in Customer Connection.

About the Author

Steve Walker

Steve Walker

As the third generation of Walkers to lead the privately-held research and consulting firm, Steve is focused on creating shareholder value for Walker’s clients through customer intelligence and customer strategies. Steve was named president of Walker in 1994 and added the CEO title in 1996. Then, in 2006, Steve was named chairman of the board.

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