Who "Owns" the Customer in Your Company?

Announcing our Customer Manifesto. Your Customers Will Soon Resolve Your Company’s Territorial Conflicts—Are You Ready?

July 18, 2002

Who owns the customer relationships in your company? Who else is allowed to interact with customers? Who controls what information is captured and what information is shared for which groups of customers? Guess what? Whatever your answers are to these questions, they’re probably the wrong answers for the customer economy. Today’s customers are demanding control over their information and their relationships. We introduce our Customer Manifesto—the seven demands that today’s customers expect every company to meet. How will you meet these demands? We offer implementation tips, best practices, and the six steps we recommend that you take in order to begin transforming your corporate culture today!


Most companies are looking in the rear-view mirror when it comes to customer information and relationship ownership. The conventions and policies that we've used in the past to control who has access to customers and who has access to customer information are archaic.

Today, customers are in charge. They want control over their own information and relationships. Customers are beginning to make demands regarding information transparency for which most companies are completely unprepared. We've summarized these seven demands in our Customer Manifesto.

How will your firm meet the obligations implied by the Customer Manifesto? We offer implementation tips for each of the seven demands, along with some best practices and a six-step process to get you going.

There's a lot going on in the area of customer profiling and customer information standards and regulations. It's best to have a key person in your organization charting your company's implementation course.

If you don't want to lose your customers' trust, you need to begin now to transfer the ownership of customer information and relationships to your customers!

Territorial Issues around Customers Will Keep Your Company in the 20th Century

In every organization with which we've worked, we've encountered the same dysfunction around customer issues. Everyone is trying to avoid interfering with longstanding, and sometimes unspoken, rules about which group of people are "in charge of" which customer relationships. These customer zones lead to paralysis. They keep your organization from providing a unified voice to the customer and making it easy for your customers to do business with you.

What Customers Really Want

Of course, you're already aware that today's demanding customers don't care a whit about your company's internal organizational issues. Nor do they care about your channel conflict issues with your partners. What customers want is a seamless and productive relationship with the members of your firm and with your partners.

Customers Want to Own Their Relationships!

As you sort through your organizational issues, remember this single, most important fact: You don't own your customer relationships; your customers do! That means that neither your sales force nor your channel partners get to "own" the customer relationships. The customers own their relationships with your firm. Your organization--including all of its people, departments, and authorized representatives--is simply entrusted with whatever information customers would like you to know about them. This simple and incontrovertible fact should help you plot your organization's course through the landmines of customer ownership issues.

Our Customer Manifesto

Today's customers want to be in control of their relationships. That means a number of things, some of them seemingly contradictory. Below we've listed seven rules of thumb for dealing with today's customers. Wearing your customer hat, you can probably think of several more. Please send them to me, and we'll add to the list. Let's call this list of customers' expectations about how today's customers want to do business with us, the "Customer Manifesto."

What Customers Require in Order to Do Business with Your Firm (7 Rules of Thumb)

1. KNOW ME AND MY SITUATION. Everyone I deal with in your firm or related to your firm should know who I am and have an accurate and up-to-date picture of my dealings with your firm (and its authorized representatives and partners). If I am acting as a member of a business account or of a family account, I expect you to have the full picture of that account activity.

Implementation Tip: Make sure that everyone who touches the customer (or is likely to) has easy access to a complete cross-touchpoint, cross-product, and cross-functional view of the customer's transaction and interaction history as well as that of his/her account or family.

2. DON'T SHARE MY INFORMATION WITH ANYONE I HAVEN'T AUTHORIZED YOU TO. Here's where the contradictions start. I want a seamless experience, but I haven't explicitly said you can share my contact information or my Web site peregrinations with your sales people, your dealers, or your distributors. Yet, based on rule #1, above, as soon as I begin to deal with one of those parties, I expect them to be able to get up to speed right away on my situation.

Implementation Tip: This should be easy to do by simply flipping an electronic switch to give the newly involved, or newly authorized, party access to that customer's information.

3. DON'T BLINDSIDE ME. Customers want to determine whom you are allowed to talk with in their firms or in their families. Customers don't want to be blindsided by having you go behind their backs to woo some other member of their team or their family without their consent or knowledge.

Implementation Tip: Any time you're interacting with another member of the account or family, cc: the customer who owns the relationship. Keep them in the loop.

4. GIVE ME FULL DISCLOSURE. Make it easy for me to see everything that you know about me and whatever it is that you've inferred about me from my behavior. Allow me to make corrections or amendments to my electronic records--no questions asked!

Implementation Tip: Make it easy for me to access your records of my transactions and interactions electronically and securely. If you have made assumptions about my preferences and my behavior, show me those assumptions and let me challenge and/or revise them.

5. GIVE ME CONTROL OVER MY INFORMATION. I want to be able to ....

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