Recently, I wrote, “‘Simplifying The Way We Work,’ But What About The Customer?” It provoked some interesting discussion, including a great comment from Gary Hart: “…do you think many organizations are trapped in the misconception that bottom-line-centric improves customer centricity and that price trumps service?”
Certainly, the bottom-line is critical to our success. Without focusing on profitability, we can’t continue to invest in growth or survive. It’s a fundamental for all businesses. But customer centricity and profitability aren’t conflicting goals. In fact our most loyal customers are probably our most profitable customers.
I do think many business executives, mistakenly, put profit maximization over customer focus/customer centricity. But the markets are pretty efficient in recognizing and “rewarding” those behaviors, so it’s improbable these organizations are considered market leaders or high growth.
In reality, I think the issue is much more simple, but much more pervasive and difficult to fix. Unless we deal with customers every day (sales, customer service, marketing), the “customer” is a huge abstraction to most people in organizations, even those at the very top.
Customers are faceless, distant, amorphous–an abstraction. Again, unless our jobs involved us dealing with customers everyday, we probably don’t think about them very much. Instead, we focus on doing our jobs the best way possible. If we are doing our jobs well, we constantly focus on simplification, improvements in our efficiency and effectiveness.
When we make changes in what or how we do things, we look at those people in our organization that are immediately impacted–they tend to be upstream or downstream in our workflow. If the changes we are considering don’t adversely impact them, we go ahead. However, small or insignificant it is, we seldom consider our customers (or suppliers and external community). After all, we don’t directly touch them.
But these changes can be devastating in what they do to the customer experience.
The example in the referenced post, stopping voicemail, probably seemed trivial — it improved the effectiveness and efficiency of how people in the organization communicated with each other. A change in telephone systems, or an “improvement” in IT systems, a shift of policies, a shift in product specs, a change in the manufacturing process, a shift in packaging, and so on. While these may be very positive internally, they may impact the customer experience directly or indirectly.
But we don’t tend to think about customers because we don’t see them or deal with them every day.
So how do we keep them in our minds as we do our jobs every day? Here are some thoughts?
- Managers/leaders should always review changes, challenging teams, “How does this impact our end customers, suppliers, and the communities outside our company?”
- Make the customer less abstract by putting pictures, quotes, letters from customers in various gathering areas–break rooms, lunch rooms, near their work spaces. Make sure you change them up frequently–that picture, quote or thank you note from 25 years ago just doesn’t do it any more. Make sure it’s not just the positive experiences and “thank you’s,” post complaints and other issues customers have.
- Make the customer real by bringing them into the organization–not to sell them, but to listen and learn. Make them part of product development teams, have them meet with people in manufacturing, finance, operations, and administration. Listen to the real voice of the customer, see them, talk to them, recognize they are real people.
- Make the customer real in all internal communications, whether it’s newsletters, employee web sites.
- Create customer councils, supplier councils, councils of people in the communities you work in and serve. Ask them for input, pay attention to their ideas.
- Be active socially in listening and learning–make those social streams available to others in the company.
Even though we don’t directly “touch” the customer, everyone in the organization is part of the customer experience. Don’t forget the customer in changes you may be making in your organizations.