Who owns the customer?

5 years ago
innovAGEING > Media + Blog > Blog > Who owns the customer?
Category: Blog

There is only one boss. The customer. And they can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else.

Sam Walton, Founder, Wal-Mart

On Saturday, Paul Franks sent a tweet to Elon Musk with a request. “Can you guys program the car once in park to move back the seat and raise the steering wheel? Steering wheel is wearing.”

Twenty-four minutes later, Elon Musk responds with, “Good point. We will add that to all cars in one of the upcoming software releases.”

Nine months earlier, Elon Musk responded to another Tesla customer, Loic Le Meur when he tweeted, “The San Mateo supercharger is always full with idiots who leave their Tesla for hours even if already charged.”

Musk responded, “You’re right, this is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.”

If you Google ‘Elon Musk responds to customers’, you will get scores of articles retelling the times when he responded to Tesla customers.

Musk is the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and a quirky company called The Boring company. He was also a co-founder of PayPal. Musk is renowned for his reactive tweeting. He famously Tweeted in 2018, “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured,” This brought the ire and scrutiny of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), eventually fining Musk $20 million—and cost him the chairmanship on Tesla’s board.

But what’s remarkable about Musk responding to customers isn’t so much his amenable nature to their Tweets, but it instead presents a very simple question, “Who owns the customer?”

The rise of CX

The resurgence towards creating better customer experiences (why was this ever allowed to stop?) has seen a renewed focus, and a more rigorous process to understanding customer challenges. Human-centred design has begun to spread through start-ups and organisations alike to ensure the customer is always front and centre when creating solutions.

Customer experience or ‘CX’ has become part of the vernacular. So much so that organisations now have CX teams to specifically look at the customer journey and their experiences. But this raises more questions than it does answers. Namely, what’s marketing’s role now?

In full transparency, I’m biased. My background is marketing, and before the rise of CX we (marketers) would call it ‘brand experience’. Okay, we missed calling it BX but essentially the two are one-and-the-same. We would talk incessantly about the customer journey and their experience across all of our brand touch points. So, why did we feel the need to call it CX instead?

The simple answer is that it just wasn’t cool anymore. Millennials don’t do marketing, they do growth hacks and hackathons. So, using terms like brand and marketing was so last century. So ‘brand experience’ was out and ‘customer experience’ was in—to use the correct phraseology, CX.

But there was also something a little more deeper going on. CX wasn’t just lip service, it was intrinsic to many start-ups and organisations alike. Human-centred design was taking hold of Silicon Valley as they wanted greater returns on their investments. So finding viable customer solutions was paramount to investor funding.

Now we are beginning to have a world where the customer is starting to become front and centre. Organisations are learning to start with the customer experience and then work backwards to the technology. Not widget first, but rather problem then solution.

It’s social not personal

Getting unfettered access to a CEO of any company is rare. While social media can give you ‘direct’ access to politicians, celebrities and executives alike, it doesn’t mean they will of course respond to you.

So, when Elon Musk does reply to a customer, he is signalling very clearly to his employees (and the world) that no-one has a monopoly on customers. Nor is it a job title. It is everyone’s responsibility to solve a customer’s problem (challenges in the politically correct parlance) or enhance their experience with quick and timely responses.

The Ritz-Carlton’s customer service story teaches us about the importance of non-traditional client facing roles being mindful and reactive to customer needs, but we don’t ever think of a CEO needing to be customer responsive. Whereas in Apple Retail everyone sells. From CEO down, everyone is in the ‘RedZone’ selling, especially during product launches. This takes training.

So, who really owns the customer?

No one person (role) owns the customer. It’s everyone’s job to look after them based on the experience or interaction you are having with them. It’s not a job title. It’s a job description and everyone should have it included in theirs, regardless of position. However, certain customer facing roles will have bigger impacts on a customer’s experience than other roles.

It all comes down to training. Extensive employee inductions and ongoing training sets the tone for how your employees respond to customers. Elon Musk is unique in his approach and ability to respond to customers. However, as we’ve seen, he doesn’t always get it right.

Anthony Carroll
innovAGEING Expert-in-Resident for Design Thinking
Senior Marketing and Innovation Manager, Mirus Australia

For more information: