Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On "Customer Advocacy"

It was with great dismay that I read a recent blurb in an alumni magazine I received from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School regarding their brand new business press’ recent publication of Glen Urban’s Don’t Just Relate- Advocate.

Dr. Urban, an MIT decision science/operations research professor, has allegedly pioneered a new form of customer relationship. It involves not merely understanding and meeting customer needs, which has typically been the province of marketing. Rather, he now espouses “advocating” for your customers, within your organization.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s review the list of companies the review in the alumni magazine provides as apparently shining examples of this method’s success:

-GM (wow- can you believe this one? Someone would actually list GM as a paragon of anything but failure in marketing?)

-Qwest (another paragon of clear-sighted marketing. Their very future is now in question after losing out in the bidding for MCI)

-Intel (great chip manufacturer, but not a great producer of consistently superior shareholder wealth)

-John Deere (again, a famous name, but hardly a consistently superior producer of shareholder wealth)

Maybe I’d rather see the list of companies who refused to pay Dr. Urban’s firm, Experion, for consultation on this important new customer management philosophy.

I recall reading Dr. Urban’s work as a graduate student in marketing some years ago. My belief then, as now, is that many operations researchers have much less understanding of the marketing discipline they seek to influence than they realize. Thank goodness.

For instance, I read in the book’s review in the aforementioned alumni magazine, “He draws on new case studies to show how to align culture, metrics, incentives, and organization, driving effective advocacy throughout entire organizations.” Now, that is a chilling concept indeed. Are we to understand that GM’s current situation is a showcase of this method writ large and successfully? Or did GM not fully embrace it yet, “throughout (the) entire organization(s),” and, if not, why not?

The concept of this being totally diffused throughout an organization leaves me with one thought- who’s minding the mint? Doesn’t at least one senior executive need to be left weighing the satisfaction of customer needs by new and existing products and services with the company’s long-term profitability and return to shareholders?

I confess to being embarrassed that one of my alma maters has become so myopic. What does it matter if a company profits, and fails to provide shareholders with an attractive, competitive return? At least I’m comfortable knowing there are very few hardcore OR types in the pantheon of academic marketing gods.

No need to take advantage of my alumni discount on this soon-to-be-classic volume.

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