Over the past few months, I have written about fundamental concepts that appear to be absent from so many interactions with businesses. Building from a pamphlet that was written in 1988, I have addressed some of the key ways businesses can improve their relationships with customers.
But why is this customer-centric approach so important? Many business leaders may be concerned about making costly investments that might not result in increased revenue. Further, how can one be sure about the financial returns since no one can really predict the future? There must be some grounding to demonstrate that a customer-centric approach is just common sense.
My colleague, Dr. Linden Brown, chairman of MarketCulture and author of the 2015 business book of the year The Customer Culture Imperative, explains the importance of a customer-centric culture. He says, "Customer culture is to business, what breathing is to living. Yet so many leaders do not know the impact of their culture on their customers’ experiences. Direct interaction with customers helps leaders create a "customer mindset" that is needed before decisions are made and practices are implemented that show their customers that they care. These practices, reflected by the behaviours of leaders and their employees, can be measured, and benchmarked against the most customer-centric companies in the world. It’s a good starting point for action by leaders to embed stronger customer-centric practices as a culture, that everyone in the business can embrace."
Dr. Brown’s position is very clear that customer-centricity provides a competitive advantage for an organization over the long term. Specifically, the research he conducted has confirmed that customer-centric companies are more profitable.
With this as the rationale for being customer-centric, why do I still see in my work, so many customer service horror stories? I believe it is because there is still a gap between what the senior leadership hear, and think is true versus what is happening.
Terry O’Reilly, a colleague and host of CBC’s Under The Influence show, relates a terrific story about what can happen when senior leaders get a taste of what their customers experience. In his recent book, This I Know, O’Reilly recounts the story of British ad agency Allen Brady & Marsh and the company’s campaign pitch for the British Rail account. When the British Rail executives arrived at the agency’s office for their meeting, they were met with a dirty lobby, strewn with garbage, ignored by the receptionist who was talking to a friend on the phone, and made to wait 50 minutes. Just when the executives were fed up and ready to leave the agency creative director came out and said "Gentlemen, you’ve just experienced what thousands of British Rail customers experience every day. Let’s sit down to see if we can figure out a way to change that."
This is the boldest move I have ever heard of to portray the actual customer experience. And yet, the fundamentals of having a clean train station and being on time were completely missing from British Rail. As O’Reilly notes, "…they made the British Rail clients feel the problem, not just understand it." I wonder how many business leaders would face up to what their customers "feel" regularly, rather than reading and rationalizing what customer surveys may say. My initial thought is that there would be a significant defensive posture that would not allow the executives to believe something could be that bad.
So, I am throwing down the gauntlet initially to senior leaders. Who will be brave enough to live through an actual in-person, web, or phone interaction with their company? And I do not mean just one interaction. I am suggesting that you need at least a day of each to provide a wide range of experiences. Here are three ways to develop your winning game plan by improving the relationship with your customer.
First, you need to stay quiet and listen to your staff interact and see what is effective. Only after you do this, have you earned the right to speak directly to a customer. Remember, you are now operating within company policies, not the privilege of being a C-suite executive who can make any decision you want. If your staff don’t have the authority to make that same decision, neither can you.
Second, you need to ask your staff what the biggest problems are that they solve for customers. In this case, you are looking for instances where your company policies do not help advance a customer-centric mindset. These are typically all about protecting the company first.
Finally, you need to debrief your senior leadership and implement specific action. Immediate action can be something quick, and up to 90 days for something more substantial. An added recommendation is to involve front-line staff, so that the collective team can craft what will work when dealing with customers.
Tim’s bits: Before you advertise how great you are, you need to be 100 per cent certain that you are. Implementing these fundamentals will help you become customer-centric into the future. Creating this mindset throughout your organization will ensure alignment of purpose and consistency of delivery. Customers want to receive something of value, and they will gladly pay when you deliver. That’s just common-sense marketing.
Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.