What Did Maslow Know About Customer Centricity? It Ain’t Happening!

November 19, 2010
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Abraham Maslow is spinning on his grave these days.

So many mis-interpretations of his work and theories abound, no wonder he is being made responsible for a slew of problems in this world that don’t even belong in his ground-breaking Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow is spinning on his grave these days.

So many mis-interpretations of his work and theories abound, no wonder he is being made responsible for a slew of problems in this world that don’t even belong in his ground-breaking Hierarchy of Needs.

The concept of the pyramid is quite simple — humans grow as our needs are met.  Got a roof over your head? Get married.  Happy Marriage? Go get a job.  Got a job? Keep it.  Secure in your job? Help others.  The chain continues to the level of self-actualization – a point where we are complete and happy.

The problem is that this evolution has hiccups and kinks along the way, some of which are not solvable by the majority of the population.  For example, people tend to stay in unsastifactory marriages or jobs for a multitude of reasons that don’t fall in the realm of this post.  Those people cannot evolve to a higher level until they fulfill their current one.  If you are unhappy with your job then helping others is not a natural instinct – you are more proclive to help yourself first.

I don’t want to turn this into some thesis on Developmental Psychology, just use the basic information to assert my belief: Maslow knew that humans cannot be customer-centric (at least most of us), he just never quite said it in those words.  Hear me out.

To be customer centric you need to be at the very least realized at the level of job security (second layer in the above pyramid).  If you are not realized with job security, you are not going to progress to the next level.

This is the barrier for organizations becoming customer-centric: employees that are not secure in their jobs.  Mind you, it is not entirely their fault (again, in most cases) since their main aim is not to please their customer but rather please their bosses.  In turn, those bosses are there to please their bosses, who are there to justify their bonuses — usually tied to efficiency metrics not related to customer effectiveness and customer-centricity.

Maybe a cynic way to look at the world, but tell me it is not reality in your organization.

The problem is that as much as you (as a worker or even a manager) wants to provide customer-centric service and focus, the people above you don’t get paid to do that.  Blake Landau describes how Zappos surpasses this problem (and in the process describes the politics of fear at work quite well for companies unlike Zappos) in her recent post.

Bottom Line: Organizations cannot be customer-centric until the top-bosses embrace the concept, get compensated for it, and enforce adoption across the organization.

Once the top-boss is customer-centric (read compensated to care about customers more than himself), Maslow assures us that the rest of the organization will be also Customer Centric.

What do you think? Ever had to decide between keeping your job and making your customers happy?