Category Archives: Cross-functional Collaboration

Maintaining momentum during a customer focused culture change initiative

“A constant trickle of water will wear away the stone that a burst of rain will leave unchanged.”

Maintaing Momentum in Customer Focused Change Initiatives

How do we maintain momentum?

We get asked this question a lot by clients. Undertaking a new customer focus initiative is an exciting and motivating experience. Most people enjoy the opportunity to improve, grow and do things more effectively. The initial kick-off is usually accompanied by a flurry of passion and enthusiasm at the prospect of improving customer interactions.

After the initial excitement action and momentum must follow. The alternative is lost credibility and increases in resistance to future improvement initiatives.

We have found a number of key ways to make this happen:

1. Keep the customer focused vision and goals out front.

Customer focused businesses are more successful and more enjoyable places to work. Take this vision of customer focus and keep it top of mind.  Keep it where you will see it every day, where it will always be front of mind.  Write it down, visualize it and gather photos that remind you of this vision.

2. Remind everyone of the customer focused vision.

Keep the customer focused vision out in front of the whole team, so that everyone knows where they are going, and every knows WHY they are going in that direction.  Continually reinforcing the vision for your team will be an important part of maintaining momentum.

3. Maintain Leadership Buy-in and Commitment

Its not enough for only the CEO to buy-in to a major customer focus initiative, leaders at all levels need to be on board. It is important for the initiative lead to spend time with all leaders to make sure the program provides value from each executive’s perpective.

4. Focus on progress

“We’re looking for progress, not perfection.”

Every step towards improving the organizations customer focus counts. The fact there are more discussions happening about customers and what the organization is doing for them is progress. The fact that teams are forming to improve customer insights, develop customer metrics and drive improvements in customer-focused behaviors is progress. Although these activities are clearly not outcomes they do demonstrate progress.

5. Celebrate quick wins and best practices

Identify stories and examples of employees doing things in a customer focused way and share these with the rest of the organization.

  • What new insights into customer behavior are being discovered?
  • How are decisions being taken to maximize customer satisfaction and retention?
  • How is the organization demonstrating how to make the tradeoffs between investing in customers for the long term and short-term profits?
  • What best practices do we already have in place and how can these be shared across the organization?

How do you keep everyone focused on the customer?

Energizing your employees with internal marketing – Part 2

This is part 2 of an interview with Sybil F. Stershic, an expert on internal marketing. (Click here for Part 1)

3. As marketers, how can we incorporate internal marketing tools into the way we do our jobs?

I advocate two types of internal marketing tools. The first type involves what I call the “Employee-Customer Link” – find ways to connect employees with customers. For example, I encourage sharing general customer information, along with the results of any customer satisfaction research and complaint tracking, with ALL employees. Employees need to know who your company’s customers are … why they do business with you … how they use your products & services … and what they think of you. Too often customer information and insight is kept within the marketing, research, and/or sales functions. But the more your employees know about your customers, the better they can serve them. Another way to forge the employee-customer link is to include employees in customer visits or customer events, where appropriate. Some companies even set up “adopt-a-customer”- programs where employees reach out to customers to better understand their needs. These programs enable employees to connect with customers as real people, not just faceless names and account numbers.

The second set of internal marketing tools relates to strengthening a company’s “Internal Service Culture” based on the reality that internal customer service drives external service. These tools are used to encourage and reinforce collaboration, support, and communication across the organization so that employees work effectively with each other to achieve marketing and organizational goals. For example, one company organized a job-shadowing initiative where employees took turns spending time with other employees in different departments outside their respective functions. This effort enabled employees to better understand how their work – individually and collectively – impacts customers and the bottom line; i.e., it reinforced the message “We’re all in this together.” Marketers can be role models for internal collaboration by being inclusive in the planning and implementation of brand and marketing strategy – communicating with, educating, and providing the training and reinforcement that all employees need to understand and effectively deliver the brand promise.

4. What are some of the inhibitors to internal marketing and how can they be overcome?

I’ll comment here on what I consider to be a major inhibitor: the lack of top management commitment and involvement. Consider the popularity of “Undercover Boss” – people are hungry for a real connection between top management and employees.

In such situations, I tell people they need not wait for management to get a clue. If you don’t have the authority to implement internal marketing at the macro level (i.e., across the organization), you can still have an impact at a micro level – you can apply internal marketing on a department, division, or business-unit level. I encourage people to involve other departments at the outset, but if you’re unable to enlist human resources, administration, operations, etc., in internal marketing, you can go it alone. Sometimes all it takes is for one department to start; then when others notice the difference (“Hey, the folks there actually seem to enjoy their work!”), internal marketing can spread throughout the organization.

5. What is the best place for companies to start an internal marketing program?

Start by talking with and listening to your employees. Ask them what gets in the way of their doing their jobs effectively; then brainstorm what can be done to overcome those barriers. You can also ask them to put themselves in the CEO’s shoes and identify one or two things they would do to improve the organization. Another great conversation starter is this question: Would you refer a friend to work here?

In addition, review the results of your current customer satisfaction measurement. What are your customers telling you in their responses to how well the company is taking care of them? If you don’t have such customer and employee research, then invest in it.

Internal marketing involves listening and responding to both employee and customer concerns. Keep in mind that the way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel – and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers!

For more on internal marketing get hold of Sybil’s book , Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care and visit her blog: Quality Service Marketing Blog

Energizing your employees with internal marketing – Part 1

Sometimes we forget how great customer experiences are created. They are the result of employees that really care passionately about making a difference and delivering maximum value for customers.

In our work we often see companies that have corporate cultures that unfortunately work against this innate goal. Most people want to do the right thing for customers but sometimes their environment makes it harder than it should be. This is where internal marketing can play a role.

The following are the first two questions from an interview with an expert on this subject and a fellow AMA instructor, Sybil F. Stershic.

1. Can you tell me more about what internal marketing entails? How do you define it?

It’s marketing inside an organization to engage employees in delivering a positive customer experience – take care of employees so they can take care of customers, including co-workers who are “internal” customers.

Internal marketing is a strategic blend of marketing, human resources, and management to ensure organizations provide the resources and reinforcement employees need to take care of customers. But don’t be misled by the “marketing” label, since any manager can apply it.

2. What are the trends driving the increased interest by companies in internal marketing?

There are several:

  • With increased commoditization and a cluttered, crowded marketplace, smart companies realize their core differentiation comes from their employees. Think about it – any innovative product or service introduced by Company A today can be easily copied by Company B tomorrow. But the one thing Company B and other competitors cannot duplicate is the relationship Company A has with its customers.
  • Another reason for interest in internal marketing is the intense focus on employee engagement, especially considering how the economic downturn over the past few years has contributed to higher levels of disengagement. Employees are tired of being told to “do more with less” and many are just biding their time until the economy improves and they can change companies. I’ve seen research indicate that only 21% of workers are fully engaged in their jobs (if only one out of five are fully engaged, then what are the other four employees doing?). And more than one-third of employees admitted they’re partly-to-fully disengaged. Gallup estimates the cost of actively disengaged employees to be an incredible $300 billion in lost productivity! We can’t afford to keep working this way.
  • Related to the engagement issue, I’ve also found that despite the amount of corporate restructuring and downsizing that’s occurred over the past several years, organizational silos still remain. The result is many employees feel disconnected and disenfranchised.

In part 2 we will look at how marketers can incorporate internal marketing into their activities…

What GM Couldn’t Learn From Toyota and Why

GM has been losing market share for more than 50 years. It has known about its reliability and quality problems for many years and has not been able to do anything about them.

The source of this story is “This Amercian Life”, here is a quick summary:

“A car plant in Fremont California that might have saved the U.S. car industry. In 1984, General Motors and Toyota opened NUMMI as a joint venture. Toyota showed GM the secrets of its production system: how it made cars of much higher quality and much lower cost than GM achieved. Frank Langfitt explains why GM didn’t learn the lessons – until it was too late.”

There were 16 high potential managers that were sent to NUMMI to learn the lessons and take them to the other GM plants around the country. What they found in the other plants was a corrosive culture so embedded and change resistant that most of them decided to leave GM, the challenge was just too great.

Some of the culture related issues they faced included:

Change resistant – the workers liked things they way they were, they were well paid and did not necessary have to work hard for their compensation, why change?

Seniority – the managers like things the way they were, compensation was linked to a hierarchy and many workers had waited years to be moved into management. When they became managers they did not want to accept any change that may reduce their seniority. More people reporting to them meant more power, Toyota’s team based approach would undermine these hierarchical structures.

Team Work meant telling on each other – there was a perception that team work meant calling out under performers and this was seen as unfair and negative.

GM was very departmentalized (silos) – there was a lack of ownership and connection between individual department success and overall success. When plants tried to implement “Toyota” methods they were not supported by the broader GM organization. GM simply did not understand the deeper system Toyota had developed around the factory floor.

Combative nature of relationships with suppliers. GM was used to aggressively competing with suppliers to get the best terms not working on collaborative solutions where both parties maximized their benefits from the relationship.

GM’s Market share went from 45.5% to 22% over the past 30 years – it was a significant but slow decline that did not generate real urgency. Complacency had set in.

GM’s decline is an incredible example of a corporate culture so internally focused that decline was an inevitable and it seems almost unstoppable.

Was this inevitable? What could have been done to turn the situation around?

The short answer is strong leadership that connected everyone’s role with customers and clearly articulated the individual benefits of being customer focused and market-driven.

Why corporate culture is the canary in the coal mine

In days gone by it was possible for larger businesses to hide their corporate culture from customers. There were less interaction points, no social media, one way communications that could be carefully orchestrated and controlled.

Those days are well and truly behind us, corporate cultures are exposed to the elements and many of them are not pretty. What often stands out to customers is the lack of co-ordination between departments, “am I talking to the same company?”. This is usually the result of a lack of understanding of the real customer experience and how to manage that across multiple departments.

A tool we have developed as an early warning signal (our Canary) for executives is called the “Market Responsiveness Index”

This tool helps executives gain some insight into how the organization’s culture maybe enhancing or hindering its strategy implementation and ability to drive business performance. It specifically addresses collaboration (1 of 7 market-driven behaviors), and allows executives to benchmark their performance against top firms around the globe.

Results indicating issues in collaboration act as a signal and catalyst for executives to address these issues or face the consequential poor business performance.

What is your canary in the coal mine?


For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here is an explanation from WiseGeek:

“Life for an actual canary in a coal mine could be described in three words – short but meaningful. Early coal mines did not feature ventilation systems, so miners would routinely bring a caged canary into new coal seams. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the canary in a coal mine kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary in a coal mine signalled an immediate evacuation.”

Having the best and the brightest employees is not enough: Lessons from Microsoft Image thanks to Seth

I read an interesting article today written by a former Microsoft senior leader describing some of the challenges he observed while at Microsoft and that appear to still exist today.

Microsoft, without doubt is one of the great success stories of the last 25 years, they have a ubiquitous platform and have attracted some incredibly talented and hard working employees. It seems strange then, almost paradoxical, that it has not been able to really innovate since its early days.

Dick explains in his article that Microsoft struggles from significant internal competition that simply slows it down and kills internal innovation.

Ultimately this is a cultural issue, they simply are no longer as market-driven as they once were. The heads of existing businesses simply kill off any internal threats that arise by pulling funding or refusing to support them. Dick sites the example of ClearType a new font that would allow users to more clearly read text on screen and the fact it was not supported by much of the internal leaders despite its clear customer value. The result was it took 10 years to finally get to market…..

If companies like Microsoft want to compete in the future they are going to have to change this culture to allow internal innovation to flourish. Buying small innovative companies won’t work as they will ultimately get eaten up by the Microsoft culture. As we have seen with Apple you can’t buy innovation you need to create the environment for it to happen.

Microsoft its time to become market-driven again!