The author emphasizes that the Board of Directors should start every meeting discussing the customers. What are they thinking? How is our franchise doing? What are the metrics of repeat business? And similar questions. Why? Because financials are reasonably straightforward, most board members are good at understanding them without conversation, and customers are the foundation of every organization. The author points out this is equally true for educational institutions, regarding alumni and students, often considered mere irritants in Board discussions. Who is to be served? The management? The shareholders are those constituents.
The author points out that close listening to the wants, dislikes, and desires of the customers is the foundation of profit, as the great marketing companies have found - from P&G, to Coke, to IBM. When Lou Gerstner, turnaround expert extraordinaire from McKinsey, took over IBM, he penciled in 40% of his time to listen to customers. What were they thinking? What did they want? A long-term customer of a simple product like Corn Flakes or Cool Whip can mean thousands and thousands of dollars over a lifetime - and a good news messenger as well. A loyal car customer can mean 250,000 or more over a lifetime.
Start here. With the customer. The great companies do from Apple to Amazon; the great educational institutions do from Harvard to Stanford; the weaker ones get off course such as McDonald's did (too pricey) but recovered. The magic of Apple is their long term customers...like them. We all should take note.
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