Category Archives: Customer-Centricity

Trust – An essential Ingredient for Customer-Centric Leadership

 

Trust it the Foundation for Customer Centricity

Trust is the Foundation for Customer Centricity

A strange dynamic is happening in the run-up to the US Presidential nominations and voting for the November Election. The two front-runners leading up to Super Tuesday were Bernie Sanders (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican), both unlikely candidates. Sanders is believed to be a left wing socialist and Trump is an irreverent, anti-establishment, “say it as he sees it” first time politician. Both are seen to be extreme in their views in relation to the ruling Washington establishment.

How has this happened? It’s happened because the existing establishment politicians on both sides of politics have lost the trust of the American people – their customers. You cannot lead without your customers’, employees’ and key stakeholders’ trust in your vision, your ability to carry it through, your authenticity and your commitment to the long haul for their and everyone’s benefit.

Stephen Covey (Speed of Trust, 2006, p.1) says:

“There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love…….That one thing is trust.”

Today there is a strong movement in all types of organizations to improve their customers’ experience. This requires customer-centric leadership that takes the view that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business.” For that to occur these organizations must have a strong customer culture which can only be developed by leaders who are trusted by their employees. We see trusted leadership in companies like LEGO, Starbucks, P&G, IKEA and the Virgin Group of companies.

What is the level of trust in leaders in your organization?

Lexus – a beacon of customer centricity

lexus_windy_road

The auto manufacturing industry will soon be under siege – impacts are already being felt with easy consumer access and convenience of services like Uber, better public transport, parking costs and restrictions in increasingly large cities around the globe and technological advances in communications propelling less commuting between home and work.

Traditionally auto dealers have focused on each transaction – just getting a sale – and not on nurturing the long term relationships with their customers that will make them lifetime brand loyalists.

Lexus is an exception. Nick Dieltiens, a customer centricity consultant based in Europe, tells us of his experiences when working with Lexus in Europe. First the mindset. It’s not about the “car”, its about the “customer’s journey”. This is illustrated by the fact that on the rare occasions when a Lexus broke down in the French Alps, Lexus arranged for a helicopter to be flown in to collect the stranded family and fly them to their destination.

Also, customer service people at Lexus in Europe are empowered to make the decision to take back a car if the customer is not entirely satisfied with the purchase. Nick tells the story of a senior Lexus executive taking back a car from a customer because the remote control would not connect to the customer’s garage door and the issue could not be fixed. So the executive purchased a Mercedes at a discounted price and provided it to his customer at that discounted price.

The next car the customer bought was a Lexus.

The customer culture in many Lexus dealerships in Europe is strong. Staff are trained to observe Lexus vehicles on the road. If one is see with a broken tail light, they would wave down the driver where safe to do so, give them their car, take the car to get the light fixed free of charge and return the car to the owner.

You may think this costs Lexus a lot of money. It may cost a little more in the short term, but it pays off in a big way with high customer loyalty in car servicing and repeat purchase.

The most important investment by Lexus is in building and retaining a customer culture! This will be essential for all auto companies if they want to grow their businesses in future.

How to create a customer centric transformation – Lessons from Air New Zealand

air_new_zealand_middle_earth_captains

A little more than a decade ago Air New Zealand posted the largest corporate loss in New Zealand corporate history. Inside 24 months it was turned around to a profit. Since that time it has been amongst the consistently highest profitability of full-service airlines around the world.

The catalyst for this change was Sir Ralph Norris, who was called in as CEO to transform the business. Sir Ralph’s customer-centric leadership and customer focused strategy was embodied in the mindset change from “we fly planes” to “we fly people”. He immediately engaged the top 800 leaders in Air NZ to think about, discuss and act on insights from customer feedback and observation that told them about what customers valued and what they hated about the flying experience.

His legacy, established over several years as CEO of the airline, has been continued by the current CEO, Christopher Luxon. You can see it when you fly with Air NZ – even the safety announcements are engaging as they feature some of New Zealand’s star rugby players, spectacular scenes of the country and references to some famous movies made in the country….

This is a testament to the sustained revenue and profit that can be generated by a culture and strategy embedded in the belief that “what’s best for the customer is best for the business.”

See The Customer Culture Imperative for a roadmap on how businesses like Air New Zealand have done it.

Lessons from REI: Aligning your People

We have just completed one of the busiest weeks in retail in the United States, with Black Friday for the physical stores and Cyber Monday for the online retailers. This week now blends together with doorbuster deals bombarding us constantly online and instore in the week leading up to Thanksgiving as well as weekend afterwards.

What is different this year is that some major stores have decided to stay closed during this period. In the land of the consumer this a really big deal!

One chain in particular stands out, REI, the outdoor recreation retailer with more than 12,000 employees and 140 stores around the US decided to close this past Black Friday. See below, their CEO, Jerry Stritzke’s 30 second announcement:

 

“We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” – REI CEO, Jerry Stritzke

So what is behind this decision? I believe it is to better align REI’s core values with its actions in the market. REI’s core mission is “to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

What better way to live that mission and align all of their people around it than closing on a day that allows their own people get outside and live the company’s mission.

Now that all sounds great but how does that help their customers? No doubt some customers may be inconvenienced by their physical stores being closed. However they will still have a small number of staff manning their website so they are not completely close for business.

REI are reacting to growing concerns by their customers and others that retail in general is overshadowing the core purpose of thanksgiving which is to celebrate with family and friends. They are betting that this decision will pay off over the longer term by aligning their people with their mission while also meeting the changing expectations of their customers.

Ultimately if you want your people and customers to really buy-in to what your company is about you must walk the talk, for me this is strategic alignment in action!

Interested in what it takes to be truly customer centric? Learn more here

How do you get employees to care about customers?

helping_employees_care_about_customers

This is a question I often hear from leaders of large companies that want to create customer centered organizations.

It is one of the key challenges of becoming customer centric.  Here are a couple of ideas that we have seen work well.

Recalling your own Personal Customer Experiences

Given we are all customers of someone, at some stage in our lives, we can all recall having a great customer experience or a really bad customer experience.

We run an exercise with leaders and employees of our clients that is a really effective way to build empathy which hopefully leads to compassion for customers.

We ask them to recall the best or worst experience that have had and to break down the elements that made up that experience, why did it stick with them?

More often than not this experience brings back strong emotions, participants get excited or even angry recalling their experiences.

At the end of the exercise we ask participants, has your organization created any of those really great or really poor experiences? Most people will admit yes so the question is why do we as an organization allow those poor experiences to happen when we know how powerful the positive experiences can be?

As you can imagine this fosters great discussion and engages people emotionally and intellectually in firstly understanding why it happens and then what to do about it.

How can we help you

Creating a Service Mindset

Ultimately everyone in an organization is there to help others get their jobs done as well as their own, it is this combination and collaboration of people that creates compelling value. Think about companies like Apple and Amazon where smart teams of people work incredibly hard together to bring their products and services to life for millions of customers.

Building a service mindset helps all employees think about how they can help other parts of the organization be successful so that they can all win in the marketplace. A service mindset requires all employees to think about the impact of their decisions and work not only on customers but other teams across the organization.

Hear from Customers Directly

A key challenge in large organizations is the distance many leaders and employees have between them and direct customer feedback. There is nothing more powerful than hearing directly from customers. It is simply not the same to hear something second hand as it is usually devoid of emotion and context.

As a result another exercise we encourage is having leaders and employees hear directly from customers in open forums or focus groups. The goal is to not just get information or new insights but to gain a sense of how customers really perceive the organization and their top of mind issues. More often than not participants gain valuable new insights into how customers really think about their organizations.

Give people permission to care about customers and then expect it

It sounds strange but in many organizations customers are an afterthought. People are not encouraged to really think about customers in their decision making processes. There are limited rewards or recognition for people that go the extra mile for customers and as a result there is limited upside or downside.

The result is a lack of real passion for customers outside of a small number of salespeople who live and breath customers as their personal livelihood. We know however that this is simply not enough. Customer passion must be pervasive across the organization for both the customer and the company to benefit.

Leaders can give people permission to care about customers by demonstrating that they care through their actions. Then over time they need to expect employees to care and simply not tolerate bad customer experiences.

A great story comes from the NRMA in Australia (similar to AAA in the US), the leadership gave their employees permission by suggesting they could:

“Break all the rules for the customer”

One of NRMA’s services is roadside assistance. They have many great stories of NRMA staff going the extra mile for customers when they are at their most vulnerable, i.e. stranded with their broken down car. One emergency roadside assistance employee even dropped a customer’s groceries to their home so they would not spoil!

What else can you do to ensure employees act in the best interests of customers as well as the business?

How to generate customer insights without another survey!

starbucks_ideas

While surveys are useful at collecting information on customers and how they feel about certain interactions, products or services there are other ways to gain meaningful insights.

First let’s define what we mean by customer insights:

Customer Insights Defined: a deep understanding of a customer’s needs and behaviors—both known needs that the customer can identify, and the latent needs that they cannot.

It also helps to begin by framing the type of customer insight you are looking to uncover. There are 4 main categories of customer insights that are useful to driving business performance.

1. Strategic Customer Insights – these are used to inform the company’s strategy by understanding what unique market segments exist in the marketplace. For example in the telecommunications industry there are a wide range of different types of customers with unique needs. Some customers now use smartphones as their primary internet device, their needs will be different from customers that still use cell phones primarily for phone calls and text messages.

A deep understanding of the needs of different market segments allows a company to determine which segments are most attractive. This customer insight also allows a company to identify where it needs to improve its own value proposition in order to attract and retain customers from each segment.

2. Program Specific Insights – these are insights specific to a component of a business strategy. For example, a manufacturer looking to roll out a training program to its retailers would need insight into the most effective methods to educate retailers. Should training be conducted in person, via a webcast or through a self service portal?

3. Product and Service Insights – these are direct inputs into how products or services could be improved. A great example of this in action is “My Starbucks Idea”, an online brainstorming tool driven by customers. Customers share ideas and other customers can vote on them so the best customer driven ideas rise to the top.

4. Insights for Marketing Communications – understanding what media and mediums customer’s use to get information informs how companies can more effectively reach and communicate with potential customers. For example if the customer group in question is predominantly focused on using social media, understanding which social media platforms they are most engaged in will help direct communication resources.

So now to the question of how to generate insights without surveys…

Customer insights can initially be generated from reviewing existing publicly available research and data as well as data internally available to the company. This often involves internal interviews with experts in markets and front line people that interact with customers on a regular basis. While this is useful it is secondary research, a review of what already exists and while it can generate new insights it is more useful for gaining alignment around what the company already knows about customers.

To gain deeper unique insights an ongoing process should be implemented that involves primary research. This doesn’t need to be complicated or only handled by marketing research profession in fact it is more impactful when people across the organization are involved.

Customer Immersion Activities

The most time and cost effective way to generate insights is to simply talk with customers. In today’s world this can include a range of mediums from one on one interviews to focus groups to online forums like the one Starbucks runs or Ideastorm, Dell’s equivalent.

Now I realize that technology products and coffee are highly engaging products with many willing participants, what if you sell toilet paper or a product that inspires less passion?

For these less inspiring categories a great source of insight can be customer complaints. Barbara Buchanan has written a great article titled “Mining Complaints and Negative Social Media May Have Positive Consequences” including some examples from the banking and manufacturing industry. The key is making it easy for customers to complain and provide feedback in real time, in the moment. For example a Hospital in California installed posters around the hospital with a QR codes. Patients can scan the QR code on their phones and immediately send a manager a message about an issue. Managers receive these in the form of text messages and commit to responding immediately and resolving issues as fast as possible. Patient satisfaction has doubled in the past several quarters as a result.

qrcodes_feedback

Going Deeper by Observing Customer Behavior

Ethnographic research can provide deep insights into people’s behaviors and unmet needs by taking a holistic view of customers in their own environment.

This is a more expensive technique but can yield unique insights. A great example comes from a day in the life analysis of  women cleaning their homes in Italy. A US company after failing to gain success with an all purpose cleaner for the home in the Italian market, undertook ethnographic research to understand why the product was failing. It discovered that Italian women spent 4 times as much time cleaning their homes than US women. They were fastidious and extremely house proud. They used specific cleaners for specific jobs as they believed an all purpose cleaner simply would not get the job done. These insights allowed the company to reposition the cleaner to focus on meeting a more specific need – benchtop cleaning. The repositioning resulted in a much more successful launch into the italian market.

Piloting New Products or Services

This involves putting new products or services in front of customers to gain direct feedback. A modern version of this can be seen on websites like Kickstarter, where entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can essentially describe a product or service and raise funding for the idea. This is really the ultimate way to test concepts, will customers pay for it? One of the most successful products launched on Kickstarter is the Pebble Watch. It launched 18 months prior to Apple announcing their own iWatch. It is now raising funding for its second version and has raised almost $10 million to date.

Mining Social Media

The last incredible source of rich customer insight exists within a wide range of social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Pinterest and other online communities. There are a range of different companies that can help mine this online data and distill sentiment and feedback in a meaningful and actionable manner. A great list of the top 50 tools is provided here by Pam Dyer.

While surveys remain a great way to elicit direct feedback on specific topics of interest to the company, there are many other ways to generate insights that should be incorporated into every company’s way of doing business.

Is Telstra Australia’s Amazon? – Its Customer Centric Strategy is Paying Dividends

Making Customer Connections

While some may argue you cannot compare a telecommunications company with an online shopping mega star like Amazon, I beg to differ.

There is one core element both companies now share – their absolute commitment to being customer centric.

In 2009 when David Thodey took over as CEO of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, he was asked what would differentiate his tenure from his predecessors. He said:

“I want to be an agent for the customer”.

It was a time when Australia’s highest profile company was being criticized on all fronts for its arrogance, poor customer service, unjustifiably high prices and monopolistic practices.

Thodey set about changing the culture at Telstra to a customer focused culture and invested heavily in defining and communicating internally a vision, values and strategy that had the customer at its center and customer service as its catch-cry. It included intense training of its 5,000 people leaders in Australia, India and the Philippines as well as new systems and processes that empowered customer facing staff to provide much better service to customers and solve their problems with least fuss. A new division was set up that enabled staff who heard of a friend’s problem at a barbeque to give them a direct line to a solution if they were having trouble getting it solved. Telstra embarked on a program to create advocacy with its customers and its staff. Use of the net promoter measurement system with daily feedback from thousands of customers fed to the areas in Telstra responsible was a trigger for focus on customers. Other customer feedback measures and progressive culture assessments have supported Telstra’s customer-centric journey.

Telstra: Improving Customer Advocacy

Now it is paying dividends. The company has posted seven successive half years of earnings growth to AUD$2.1 billion for this latest half – up 21% on last year. Dividends have been steady, but are now set to increase. Telstra is on a roll with its customer-centric strategy and stronger customer culture proving Thodey’s stance. Stock price is at an all-time high at around AUD$6.50 per share with steady and continuing growth up from around AUD$4.50 two years ago.

Telstra posts 22pc net profit rise

David Thodey is the first to say that Telstra still has some way to go. But his leadership of a strategy and culture in which the customer is at the center of decisions and service delivery is creating a highly sustainable profitable business.

If you want to see how it all began you will find it was originally initiated first in the Finance Group at Telstra and described in a case study about the CFO’s value service culture initiative. See Case Study Highlight: Telstra Transformation.

Telstra’s transformation story can also be found in “The Customer Culture Imperative: A Leader’s Guide to Driving Superior Performance”