Author Archives: Dr Linden Brown

This is why playing it safe is the biggest risk for legacy companies

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Making pizzas seems like a simple business. After all its been happening for centuries and it seems like almost anyone can do it. But to make a sustainable business out of it and maintain an appealing brand in today’s competitive world requires a customer centric leadership mindset.

A starting point for Domino’s change from an ailing pizza maker in 2010 to a growing food business was a leadership change. Patrick Doyle became CEO in 2010 after Domino’s had experienced several years of stagnating business and declining share price. Doyle realized that he could only revamp the business if he could lead and create a mindset change in staff – a change from an “omission bias” where people worry more about doing something different than no change and “loss aversion” where the focus is on not losing rather than winning. I remember the great American motivational writer and speaker Zig Ziglar saying “.. the fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain”. Doyle realized that playing it safe was the riskiest course of all and he needed to create a mindset in the business that change is a necessity and a learning mentality in which for staff “failure is an option”.

A Customer-Centric Leadership Mindset was Needed to Transform Domino’s Pizzas

The change in Domino’s strategy came with a big picture view and a realization that they were not only in the pizza-making business but also in the pizza-delivery business and how this fundamentally affected the experience of their customers. This meant becoming just as much a tech company as a pizza company to transform the way customers could order and monitor the status of their order using a Domino’s app. Other apps were created to enable customers to provide feedback and become involved in games making ‘virtual’ pizzas.

Staff needed to be open to customer criticism to help them make better pizzas that customers would love eating as well as keeping them warm enough by the time of delivery. So Domino’s took on board customer views of how bad the pizzas were and suggestions on what to do to improve them.

Customers’ frank views were aired in advertising and social media and created a transparency and honesty that enhanced brand trust. Domino’s used staff in ads to describe how they had changed recipes and ingredients to make better tasting products. The company created a delivery car with one seat and a warming oven for up to 80 pizzas. It modernized its image to create more of a sense of style and a sense of humor. All of these things were needed for success. Here is 4 minute video describing what they did:

But the foundation for creating this change to a more agile, customer-responsive business came from the customer mindset brought by the new leader and embedded in the business in a way that enabled them to change and transform. As one senior leader told me recently it is the focus on the customer and their changing needs that is the motivator for leaders and staff to change!

Domino’s business results prove the point. Today, it is the second-largest pizza chain in the world, with more than 12,500 locations in more than 80 countries, and up from a share price of around $8 in 2010 to one of $215 in June 2017.

Learn more about what a customer centric culture and mindset are by reading our book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

The key reason why Customer Centric Leaders can build billion dollar companies

One word. Empowerment.

As a leader it is not easy to “let go”. I find it a real discipline to delegate and enable others in our business to do it their way and to do what’s right for the customer. So many leaders rely on processes as a security blanket that enables them to feel comfortable with what is happening in their business.

But we can take a lead from Tony Collins, former CEO of Virgin Trains in the UK, who told me:

“I put my trust in people not processes”

Tony presided over the transformation of Virgin Trains from an internal oriented public service mentality (when Virgin took the franchise from British Rail) to a customer service culture with customer satisfaction levels and profitability as benchmarks for the European rail industry. This approach empowers people and teams to make their own decisions and not wait for approvals.

Ilkka Paananen Supercell

Supercell’s Founder wants to be the Least Powerful CEO

Supercell’s CEO, Ilkka Paananen, believes the less leaders control the more powerful their companies. Supercell, a Finnish company, was worth about $10 billion in 2016 from the creation and marketing of games accessed by digital devices. Paananen says he wants to be the least powerful CEO in the world. He believes the best people will make the best teams that will produce the best games. He explains it this way: “What I mean by this is that the fewer decisions I make, the more the teams are making. In a dream scenario that means the team is making all the decisions. A couple of years ago, we were working on something called Smash Land. Everyone in the company loved it, and it was so close to meeting its targets but didn’t quite make them. So the team went to a sauna together, talked it out and took the decision to pull the plug. I was travelling at the time, so they didn’t bother to consult me – they just emailed the company to let them know. That’s just how Supercell should work.”

He was inspired by the Netflix approach to operate like a top sports team. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a former New Zealand All Blacks rugby coach who told me that they coach in the belief that “ better men make better All Blacks”. Players are empowered to make decisions under extreme pressure on the field without consultation with the leaders. This makes them a world beating team that almost always wins close games.

As a CEO of a very successful Telecoms company told me recently, when he and his senior team “got out of the way” and let their teams do what’s best for their customers, his company dramatically increased its customer retention rate and customer satisfaction levels resulting in earlier customer account payment – happy customers pay earlier. This translated directly into sustained revenue and profit growth.

These examples constantly remind me to trust my team and our partners to get on with it and create great experiences for our customers.

Learn more in our award winning book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

How a customer culture has created “The Amazon Effect”: A vision of the Future

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Ever since reading the classic Competing for the Future I realized that a business leader must have one eye on the present and the other on the future. Every organization is running two businesses – today’s business and tomorrow’s business! To build capabilities today for tomorrow’s business requires a cultural capability for agility, change and customer centricity. I call this cultural capability: peripheral vision – the extent to which leadership and staff in the business monitor, understand and respond to trends and changes in the larger environment including technological, economic, social, political, legal and the natural environment (such as climate change). This future oriented cultural capability also leads us to build disciplines around customer and competitor foresight – what will customers’ future needs be and who will be future competitors and where will they be coming from.

The need for organizations to build these cultural capabilities today is demonstrated by what I call the Amazon Effect. Amazon just announced the acquisition of Whole Foods, a natural and organic foods supermarket chain with 465 stores in North America and the UK. What are the implications? With its online technology capability, Amazon now has a bricks and mortar chain that can be leveraged with its delivery capabilities, elevating online selection and ordering of Whole Foods private label products. It will also bring change to the current retail format with new technology like no cash registers – all to add to the ease and convenience for consumers. This will have a huge impact on other supermarkets, food and grocery manufacturers and the entire retail industry.

What would be the impact in the car industry if Apple bought Tesla or in wearable technology if Google purchased Samsung? How is VISA dealing with PayPal and Apple Pay and hotel chains coping with AirBnB? Many of these challenges for established companies are yet to happen – but they will……and soon.

I am thinking about what this means for my own business and what cultural capabilities and strategy we need to build now to ensure its future. What is your Amazon Effect – the thing that would require you to totally reinvent your business? Building cultural disciplines in peripheral vision, customer foresight and competitor foresight will enable you to become prepared to face these challenges, make the changes you need to make, take up future opportunities and run a growing and sustainable business. Without them you will struggle at best, but more likely be consigned to the history books.

Preparing for your future business requires customer-centric leadership that galvanizes all your leaders and staff to build capabilities firmly focused on who your future customers and competitors will be and how the whole organization is geared to adapt and provide ongoing superior value for customers.

Learn more in our award winning book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

Customer Centric Leaders have a Service Focus where Authenticity Trumps Ego

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Lars Bjork, the of CEO Qlik, has built the company with a service focus around a “we” Leadership Style.

My father had a particular view of service. You served your customers, your employees, your family, your community and your shareholders. He would employ people fresh out of jail to give them a second chance. He knew his staff and their families and helped them when they needed help. He knew what his customers wanted and needed and trusted his staff to deliver value. He led his business with integrity and authenticity. He was a highly respected and successful businessman. From his background in retail he told me if you do all of these things right “…the profit will come up through the floor.”

Lars Bjork agrees. He has led Qlik as CEO for the past ten years and has been there from its days as a tiny start-up in Sweden to becoming a world leader in business intelligence software. Qlik was purchased by a private equity firm in 2016 for $3 billion. It now has around 40,000 customers and offices in 26 countries. Bjork says “leadership, for me, is that you serve the team. And the team is the people who work for you.”

How does that operate in practice? Bjork describes it this way.

“I do a lot of town halls and video. People want authenticity, an unscripted sense of ‘this is how it is’. They don’t want to hear packaged BS. They can see that from a mile away. I try to be transparent and share a bit about my private life – because how am I going to learn stuff from people, how are they going to feel comfortable with me, if I don’t share anything?”

He also asks a lot of questions and listens intently to the answers. This has become formalized with a “listening forum”. This occurs where he brings a dozen people together from different sections. He can’t say anything for an hour. They give him feedback, and he just takes it in. He does not push back or dismiss it. This leadership style is one of authenticity and service.

In our current research involving interviews of customer centric leaders I find the most impressive and effective ones are authentic, service focused, and good questioners and listeners. It doesn’t mean they have no ego. They do, but they are essentially team players and do not let their egos dictate decisions. They often do have to make the tough decisions but they do it, like my father, with authenticity and with a “service” mindset.

Learn more about the power of a customer centric culture in our award winning book, the Customer Culture Imperative.

What do customer centric companies do? Create Advocates for Life.

corso281In my travels in recent weeks I have experienced two examples of how a customer-centric attitude and behavior produce memorable customer experiences. Both of these were in hotels in different countries.

In Rome my wife and I stayed at Hotel Corso 281. We planned to go south for a few days by train and wanted to leave a large case at the hotel and pick it up again on our way from the Amalfi coast via Rome to Venice. Even though there would only be a 45 minute time between our change of trains in Rome, Delia, the front office manager assured me that they would send a taxi with my bag to the station as soon as my train arrived in Rome. So we took the chance. When I nervously called the hotel on the morning of our journey and spoke to the hotel front desk a different person was fully aware of my situation. As we pulled into Rome station I called again and another front desk person was fully aware and organized a taxi to send the bag. When the taxi arrived at the station it had a large sign with my name in the side window and I gratefully took my bag. Soon after I received a call from Delia to tell me the taxi driver reported to her that the bag had been delivered. We made the train connection all because of a display of team collaboration embedded in the belief that the customer’s needs must be met. When next in Rome we are going back to stay at Corso 281.

In Dubai I checked in to the Rihab Rotana hotel after a 7 hour flight from London. The front office manager gave me his card and also the card of the other front office manager who was off duty. He assured me to call them any time if there was a problem or something they could do. This gentleman, Mazen, was gracious, attentive and carefully explained all hotel services. This manner of care could be seen from all staff in the hotel – from housekeeping to concierge to the gym and pool deck.. Soon after checking into my room a bowl of fruit was delivered. Each day in my week long stay I was greeted by the smile of Daryl, a young lady in the restaurant who seemed to be there for all seven days of my stay. She told me that their team of five often had to work long hours and 7 days because when the hotel was very busy they had to make sure all guests received a great experience. Sometimes at the end of the day even though she had already been there 12 hours her greeting and smile never diminished. I will go back and stay at Rotana in Dubai.

While these things are small for service people with the right attitude and attention to customer needs, they are huge for the customer.

Bottom line – I am an advocate of both these hotels, they stick in my mind, I will go back and I will recommend anyone that asks to try them as well.

Do you attract the right talent to your organization? People that focus on the reason their job exists? Does the leadership of your organization focus its attention on delivering a great experience?

You can learn more in our book the Customer Culture Imperative

Trump – the ultimate salesman but now comes the true test, will he deliver?

 

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Love him or loath him, one thing seems certain. Donald Trump understood the perceived needs of the middle-American “working class” and their real needs for a bigger share of America’s wealth. In business we refer to them as disenfranchised customers. In this case it was a huge proportion of the electorate that felt abandoned and had lost hope of achieving “the American Dream”.

The decisive power of a customer centric sales approach is on show here. He had the odds stacked against him – the media, the Republican party leaders, less resources than his competitor, a perceived lack of authenticity, a flawed character on show for all to see, a dubious business track record and inconsistency in his views. Any independent marketing observer would say the Trump brand was tarnished. Yet he prevailed.

Why? He listened to Americans, understood their anger and concerns and revived their aspirations. He understood how to communicate to them in a way they could understand and he effectively used fear as a motivator for action – in this case bringing them to the polls to vote for him. He used the old maxim – “the fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain”. It demonstrates that if you can tap into real needs and create an emotional connection that demands action you can create a following and eventually loyalty irrespective of flaws or weaknesses in your product. Such is the power of a customer-centric mindset. We might say customer centricity “trumps” strategy and superior resources.

Donald Trump has done the first bit of being customer-centric – creating perceived value in the minds of enough Americans to deliver him the presidency. Now he has to deliver the promise.

How he does that will require strong customer-centric leadership – ongoing insight and foresight and a team that has the mindset, capabilities and strategy with an alignment with the external environment that delivers value to middle-Americans. He will need to be consistent in his communication, be prepared to act on feedback that may differ from his own views and implement policies that will deliver on his promise. He will need to do even more than that – demonstrate his authenticity as a leader who really cares more for the American people than himself and demonstrate a character that commands respect and even admiration.

If he cannot do that he will be a one-term president.

Many senior leaders are like Donald Trump. They talk the talk and communicate great promise to their employees and their customers. But a majority of them do not display customer-centric leadership, do not walk the walk and don’t demonstrate they are in it for the long term value for delivery of value to their customers, employees and community before rewarding themselves. Those leaders are transitory, do not leave a legacy and often create chaos for all around them.

If you want to know more about customer-centric leadership contact MarketCulture and read The Customer Culture Imperative.