The customer of my customer… is my customer?

Who is the customerWho, exactly, is your customer?

That might sound like a dumb question. We’re in customer experience. We’d better know the answer to that question!

But for some, it’s not so easy to answer. B2B2C companies in particular often struggle with this. When your service is delivered through agents it’s easy to get confused. Is the agent my customer, or is their customer my customer?

There’s no one right answer. Some customer experience programs choose their distribution channel, and others select the end customer. But you do need to spend some time making this decision. Without that choice your CX program will stumble, uncertain of who you’re trying to serve. It is possible to choose both, so long as you have the resources to implement that choice. But it does dilute your efforts.

This is our first question when we work with a new client. This one question can take substantial time to answer. Some examples:

  • Who is the primary “customer” for a hospital?  Is it the patient, or the physician who sends patients to you?
  • How about a mall?  Is it the shopper, or the store manager?
  • For a manufacturer, is it the dealer or the end customer?

It’s always easy to answer these questions when it’s not your business. Of course the hospital’s customer is their patient! But those in the business tell a different story.

Who is Your Customer?

Servicing in particular becomes challenging. Do you work directly with the end customer, or instead funnel information to their agent, who then serves the customer?

This isn’t an academic question. It affects your vision, your scorecards, your resource allocation and your overall strategy.

Health insurance is going through significant disruption because they’ve lost their customers. Many health plans considered the employer to be their customer. Keep the employer happy, and they brought their employees along. That meant the health plans focused more on employer service and reporting, allocating more resources here. The consumer was simply a cost. Serve them just well enough so that they don’t complain to their employer. If you invest too much to keep the employee happy that will drive up costs, and your employer will leave. Which is why health plans are 18th out of 20 industries in the Temkin ratings. The consumers who answer the survey weren’t the real customers. Except now they are. And that means trouble for the industry.

Deciding on one customer doesn’t mean you can ignore the others. Employers still have a role in health insurance. If you focus on your dealer network, you still need to keep an eye on their customers.

But it does impact how you communicate. We only get so much time with leadership – where do you focus your communication?  We only get a limited budget. Do you spend this budget on fixing agent problems, or attacking consumer needs?

This is such a critical question that we’re putting together a special event in Minneapolis to hear from practitioners how they address this question. If you’re local, go here to sign up.

The easiest thing to do is to be vague. But an effective CX program requires you to define your customer first. Who is your customer?

2 replies
  1. Gerrit Bus
    Gerrit Bus says:

    We live in an omni-channel, extended supply chain world. Surely we should not have to choose one over the other?
    The right strategy engages ALL in the value chain in their own unique way, providing the experience demanded by that demographic.
    A business should find the time to communicate relevance across ALL channels or it will end up with an ineffective value chain.
    It should go further than just “keeping an eye” on a specific group.
    Lack of harmonization will raise its head and will potentially impact all engaged in the extended business model.

  2. Koen De Smet
    Koen De Smet says:

    Good questions here. As a B2B software vendor we treat our customers as if they were dedicated partners. We think along with them about how they can engage with their customers. So yes, our customers’ customers are our concern too.
    Multichannel customer communication is key today and its impact will only grow. The question an organization should ask itself is which channel(s) are of its customers’ preference, and be able to answer it. And even though we are in the digital age, if communication in print is expected, they should still be able to offer that. After all, it is the Age of the Customer.
    Should you have any questions on customer communications management, feel free to contact me or go to and @scriptura.


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