The easier your customers can leave you, the better

Today’s economy requires businesses to specialize. Specializing means designing around more specific customer needs. And yes, that implies making it easier for customers to leave too.


As laid out in a previous article, a business needs to specialize to compete. It’s a logical consequence of the exponential connectivity of the internet:

  • Access to goods and services increases at an exponential rate;
  • Customers can find and choose the best solution to their needs at the touch of a fingertip;
  • Businesses need to specialize to better cater to these needs. Spread resources too thin, and you’ll be no good to anyone, leaving the market to more focused competitors.

Specializing means better helping customers achieve their goals

Customers don’t come to you for your product or service as such. To them, your product or service is a means to an end. It helps them get something done. People needed the Kodak camera to create visual memories. Later, the digital camera answered the same need, but in a better way. Kodak withered away; punished for clinging on to its analogue products. The Kodak Company forgot why its customers used its products in the first place.

Somewhere between the picture above and the one below is the Kodak Company. The customer need has been the same over these thousands of years (showing off meeting a large cat), but the means to do so have changed. By focusing on the product instead of the need, Kodak has been pushed aside.

The ultimate measure of value is how much you help your customers fulfill their needs and desires. Therein lies growth. Wanting to do this better than anyone else sets the course of your specialisation. Owning the customer means being the best at helping them achieve their ambitions.

The question to ask is not “are we selling enough of our products and services?”. The question must be: “Are we helping our customers realize their ambitions?”. If you don’t ask yourself that question, chances are someone else will. If you don’t ask that question, you’ll leave the door open for competitors to do better and steal your customers.

The litmus test: can your customer easily leave you?

Never before has it been easier for a customer to find someone who can help him and get what he wants. To win, a business must design itself around helping its customers become better off.

How a company thinks about the loss of a customer is the litmus test of customer-centric design. Traditional business logic dictates you try and refrain customers from leaving. You might do so by creating minimum order values, minimum contract durations or penalties for early termination. By extracting the maximum out of a customer before he’s lost to you.

But a company that designs itself around the customer does not think it has lost a customer. It does not think in terms of extracting value. Instead, it believes it has failed to help the customer get what that customer came for. It has failed in delivering value.

That company will not make it hard for its customer to leave. Designing a company to facilitate customers means that company is easy and frictionless to do business with. That automatically means it is as easy and frictionless to no longer do business with it.

The crux of the matter is that by wanting to do better than anyone else for the customer, that customer will have no reasons to leave. Every ounce of energy must therefore be spent on making customers achieve their goals, not on trying to hold customers captive against their will.

As a customer, leaving a customer-focused company is an easy thing to do, but very hard to want.

In today’s hyperconnected world, the customer is in charge now. Companies that empower the customer will outperform their competition.

It’s more than semantics though. It takes guts and vision. It means making hard choices about products and services. It means going against short-term business interests.

But it’s the only way forward. Owning the customer — even if that paradoxically implies making it easy for them to leave you — is the only valid strategy in a world of abundance.




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