When your elected officials want your vote, but also need money from interest groups and businesses to run their campaign, who is their real constituent?

Who is the ultimate customer when your doctor’s treatment plan must adhere to your health insurance’s guidelines in order for him to get paid?

Last month a story about airport security dragging a passenger off of a plane went viral—you probably saw the story. As a frequent flyer and Story+Structure’s thought leader on the relationships between customers and companies, this incident has been on my mind a lot since it happened.

A design agency’s blog is obviously not the place to write an in-depth piece on the airline’s procedures, the behavior of law enforcement, or the passenger. Besides, I believe there is a bigger story here beyond what we all saw. When people ask me why anyone would think this was an acceptable way to treat a customer, my immediate response is to ask them, “who do you think the customer is here?” Consumers often think that they are the customers—and by customers I mean the people an organization is primarily concerned with serving. In reality, this is often not the case.

We imagine the hierarchy looks like this:

  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Regulators
  4. Shareholders

However, since the 1970s the concentration of power has shifted from families and individuals to corporations, hedge funds, and foreign investors, making shareholders the center of the business universe.  All too often, shareholder value takes precedence over customer treatment and the actual hierarchy looks more like this:

  1. Shareholders
  2. Regulators
  3. Employees
  4. Customers

A classic example of this shareholder-centric worldview is when IBM presented CEOs with a hypothetical: if they could do something that would help their employees, improve their products, enhance their customer experience, and the only business cost would be to reduce their share price by one penny, would they do it? The majority said no.

Is there any way that we can reverse this trend?

I think the principles of human-centered design go a long way toward overturning the “shareholder first” mindset. At Story+Structure, when we are designing new experiences we first help organizations honestly identify their constituents, acknowledging that there are business and regulatory realities that have to be taken into account. With all of these considerations out in the open, we can then work to provide the best customer experience possible.

We work with organizations to help them shift their perspectives away from seeing themselves as a product provider whose primary goal is generating profits for increased shareholder value, and toward being an experience provider whose products play a part in presenting that experience. A great customer experience drives loyalty and stabilizes revenue, creating great word-of-mouth marketing, bringing in new customers at lower acquisition cost, leading to higher revenue, greater profits, and improved shareholder value at the appropriate place in the organization’s priorities—last.

Contact us to find out how our experience driven approach can help your organization realign its priorities.