Category Archives: customer focus

How knowing your customers improves your ability to communicate

Stop shouting at your customers

It may sound obvious but the better you know who your customers are and what their preferences are the better your chances of finding them without having to SHOUT!

How do you get the attention of your potential customers?

What media do your customers prefer to use to get information on the problems you can solve? With the ever expanding universe of media options how do you decide where to invest? Let your customers make the decisions for you.

Where do they spend time online? Where do they network? How do they learn more about their profession? Who are they influenced by?

Finding out more about your customer’s preferences is crucial to making the right investment decisions. However choosing the right media vehicles (mouth pieces) is only half of the journey. What you have to say to customers when you find them is even more important.

What insight do you have about customers that can demonstrate you know them perhaps better than they know themselves?

Being an Ironman triathlete one of my favorite examples of this comes from the following Cliff Bar commercial which shows what its like to be a “triathlete”

This super creative 30 second tv spot really speaks to the target customer. It says we know who you are and how you feel, it is a great example of connecting with customers on an emotional level.

Was it successful? Only Cliff Bar have the actual data on that but as a customer its something I love to talk with other triathletes about. The impact of the message also means that Cliff Bar is always top of mind when it comes to selecting or recommended sports nutritional products to others.

Which company ads or messages really stand out for you?

How a customer culture frees employees

Symbol of Freedom

There is a great quote in the book I am reading at the moment, The $100 Startup  by Chris Guillebeau that goes something like:

“The quest for freedom comes from pursuing value for others.”

The more value we can create for our customers the greater our financial and personal freedom to choose what we want to do in life.

How does building a “customer culture” relate to this idea?

When we work in an environment with certain norms of behavior and expectations we generally conform to these. It is a form of social pressure that drives group behavior. If you happen to be lucky enough to work in a company that promotes a customer focus you will be exposed to some awesome things.

You will see how the best business people in the world develop a deep understanding of their customers. You will be exposed to their ways of thinking, their processes and how they lead around this important idea. That exposure will help you to build your own customer focus skills.

As you develop your own skills you will increasingly be able to provide more value to your customers, colleagues and to the business you work in. You will spend your time creating real value rather than on activities poorly aligned with customer needs and result in wasted effort, resources and destroy motivation.

Freedom follows this success and employees are free to work on ever bigger and bolder challenges. So what company would you rather work in? One inspired by how to change the lives of customers for the better or a lesser alternative?

Stop listening to everything customers say!

stop listening to customers

Now I realize this is a strange heading for someone that evangelizes creating a customer centered culture. However, there is a subtle nuance to one of the core elements of our model – the customer insight and foresight dimensions.

This nuance is significant as it relates to the biggest challenge in innovation – how do we know what customers really want?

Henry Ford has one of the most famous quotes on this idea, to paraphrase:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have told me to build a faster horse”.

This is the dilemma that faces all innovators, you need customer input, but you also have to take what customers say with a grain of salt. Customers often don’t really know what they want, in fact many will tell you “I’ll know it when I see it”.

No one asked Steve Jobs to build an iPad. What Job’s recognized was that tablet devices did not work well enough for them to ever be adopted on a mass scale. The unmet needs existed but customer’s could not articulate them into a product. As an innovator it is up to you to do the hard work of uncovering these unmet needs and devising a way to build a product.

A related challenge is  customers often don’t do what they say they will. Asking a question like “If this product had these features, would you buy it?” can often result in a great response from customers but when it comes down to buying the product customers don’t follow through.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and innovators? You need to test and learn constantly throughout the product development cycle and track actual customer behavior. Actual behavior is the barometer of a successful innovation.

Customers will vote with their attention and ultimately their wallets – making progress is initially about learning what resonates with customers and what does not.

Does customer focus matter in banking?

Customer Service in Banking Does it Pay?

Customer Focus in Banking Does it Pay?

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted one bank analyst’s view that “Spending time solving problems with people is not selling products…. Its wasting time”.

As a bank analyst his role is to review the bank’s financials and make buy, sell or hold recommendations to his clients. His statements came after having a poor customer experience at his local Wells Fargo. He lamented, “I’m struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good.”

This particular analyst has a history of being controversial so what he says has to be taken with a grain a salt, however, does he have a point?

The analyst decided to change banks as a result of the poor experience. Did he expect other customers not to respond in the same way? By letting their feet do the talking?

This incident raises challenges relevant to all leaders trying to improve customer focus.

Would you use a single example of failure to conclude this is the way Wells Fargo does business? Common sense suggests the answer would be “no”.

Was this experience and an anomaly or symptom of greater problems? Was it a one off issue confined to one employee in a single branch or a sign of a broader cultural issue?

In Wells Fargo’s case the evidence suggests the former. Over the past few years the bank has a string of top place finishes in customer satisfaction independently measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Based on our research we know that companies with high levels of satisfaction are more profitable. The reason Wells Fargo is doing well is because of its customer focus not in spite of it as the analyst suggests.

Another question highlighted by this story is how important is “customer service” to the banking experience?

Customer service is part of a customer’s consideration set but it will vary in importance depending on the customer. Customers have different needs and will use the bank’s services in different ways. A customer looking for a mortgage will be more sensitive to the bank mortgage rate than one that only has a checking account. Some customers may never enter a bank branch. They conduct all their banking online. Customer service from them only becomes an issue when something goes wrong.

As a business leader what is more important to understand is how customer centric is the company’s culture. Am I setting sending the right messages to our team about the importance of customers? Am I role modeling the behavior that I know will make us successful in the customer’s eyes?

What do you think?

Is this a bank analyst just trying to be controversial to get publicity? Is it a one off or an early warning sign?

4 simple practices to build a customer culture in your company

This is a great short video interview with Tony Hsieh of Zappos discussing how the concept of culture and customers come together. Also thanks to Robert Reiss, host of The CEO TV Show.

The intersection of customers and corporate culture

The culture of an organization dictates how it will view customers and how it will treat them.

If everyone is expected to understand who customers are and what they value, then people naturally start doing this. Culture is a form of social pressure, it is the way you are expected to behave in a group environment, hence it is a very powerful way for leaders to create an environment of success.

Customer culture specifically looks at how much attention is being placed on bring the customer viewpoint into all decision making. It is a proven way to drive better business results as it ensures the business is aligned with its market.

Here are some great customer culture building practices that you can begin today regardless of the role you play in your company:

1. Put Customers on the Agenda

A great habit that gets everyone thinking is to start every meeting with a customer insight. Share one piece of feedback you’ve collected, one idea you have heard directly from a customer. These insights and stories can come from anywhere in the company. It does not have to be a deep conversation – just a way to get in the habit of brining the customer viewpoint inside before getting on with the rest of the meeting’s agenda.

2. Building Customer Empathy

Have someone share their own recent customer experience. Was it a positive one? What made it positive? Why did it stand out in their mind? How does it affect the way they think about that company and would it influence whether that would continue doing business with them? What does it mean for your company?

This simple exercise is a great way to build customer empathy in the team. By thinking like a customer you can make changes that will drive increases in value.

Steve Jobs and his leadership team conducted a similar exercise and recognized how dissatisfied they all were with their mobile phones. In their experience, phone’s were difficult to navigate, complex and basically not user friendly. This created the drive and inspiration to develop the iPhone.

3. Encourage Leaders to Share Customer Stories

Create a regular opportunity for senior executives to report on what they learn from their own conversations and interactions with customers.

There maybe extra leg work to translate what they heard into a useable insight, but it will be well worth the effort.

4. A Top Successes/Frustrations Customer Conversations Report

Create an ongoing forum for people to share what customers are saying in the form of a communication piece to the whole company. It should be in story form but can include statistics on key customer metrics ie things that are important to customers that your company helps them achieve. For example LinkedIn tracks how many new connections it helped people create on its professional networking site each day.

It should also include the top frustrations customers have when doing business with you. This highlights to everyone the priorities in terms of maintaining and improving customer satisfaction levels.

We have lots of FREE tools, templates and elearning modules to help build your customer culture here

What other practices do you use to drive a great level of focus on customers?

How Hawaiian Airlines has built a Customer Culture

Hawaiian Airlines Customer Focused Culture

Hawaiian Airlines – Customer Focused Culture

Charles Nardello, the SVP of Operations at Hawaiian Airlines, recently wrote about how they were able to drive improvement in the key metrics important to airline customers.

Hawaiian are now routinely ranked first by the US Department of Transportation among all airlines for on-time performance and fewest cancellations as well as garnering top marks for best baggage handling and fewest customer complaints.

How did Hawaiian achieve these outcomes? By creating a customer culture based on 3 strategies:

1) Really understanding the Hawaiian travel customer

2) Benchmarking Hawaiian on customer “moments of truth” regularly

3) Empowering Hawaiian employees to handle unexpected situations

Knowing your Customer

Hawaiian Airlines is infused with a customer focused culture that permeates everything.

“For every decision we make, from the most basic to the complex, the customer always comes first—they are the driver of our decision-making and strategic planning,” – Charles Nardello

A culture that brings the customer perspective to every decision acts very differently than a company where customers are an afterthought or are only considered when reacting to customer problems. At every level of the organization, whether deciding on which cutlery to use in the cabin or which markets to fly to, a deep understanding of the customers they serve and the experience they want to create drives the decision.

Benchmarking and Embracing Complaints

In order to benchmark, Hawaiian Airlines surveys customers every month on their experiences with the airline and factors the results into every employee’s bonus pay.

“Every employee receives a scorecard rating them on how well they’ve performed in interacting directly with the customer or, in the case of senior executives, on decision-making and strategic planning.” – Charles Nardello

It’s an approach that guarantees that everyone at the airline will remain focused on the customer. In particular they are focused on the key moments of truth that drive the most value for their customers. This includes check-in, boarding, the flight itself, baggage retrieval and how customers are treated via each stage of their journey.

The airline reinforces this customer focus via a streaming news ticker that runs on the lower part of computer screens and TVs  in break rooms and crew lounges. The ticker show unedited, unfiltered, real-time customer reaction via social media.

Nardello suggests that he is grateful for complaints as it provides the opportunity to do something immediately to improve.

Unfortunately most customer’s don’t complain they just leave and the company wonders what happened. In fact customers are more likely to complain to someone else about the experience than the company directly. This creates even more of challenge for a company to win them back.

If a reaction is negative, the airline addresses it immediately. As Nardello points out, “Our speed in addressing the problem could make the difference between retaining that customer for future flights or losing him or her forever.”

Empowered Employees

No company can prepare for every situation  that can trigger customer dissatisfaction, which is why those that excel at customer service train and empower their frontline employees to solve problems on the fly.

“We believe employees perform best when empowered to improvise and bring unmatched service to their customers in a sincere, personal way.”

This strategy has served Hawaiian well as it continues to be ranked among the very best airlines in North America. It was recently ranked 3rd most profitable on a pre-tax margin basis behind two other airlines know for high levels of customer focus – Alaskan Air and Southwest Airlines.

7 Ways to Boost your Customer Focused Culture

Bringing the Customer Into Focus

Bringing the Customer Into Focus

Customer focused businesses outperform their competition on every metric that matters – profitability, sales growth, innovation and customer satisfaction.

Most business leaders agree that increasing customer focus will improve business performance so the question then becomes how?

Here are 7 ways leaders can help improve the level of customer focus across their businesses:

1. Get everyone involved. Every employee has an impact on customers, sure sales, marketing and customer service lead the daily interactions, but the non-customer facing staff can have a powerful impact. Sales and marketing teams make the promises to customers that the organization must deliver on. If everyone is not on the same page execution falls over and customers bare the brunt.

2. Benchmark your current level of customer focus. There is a lot of talk about customer focus but how do you make such an abstract concept real? We think part of the answer is to measure and benchmark it. We do that through the Market Responsiveness Index which measures the level of attention companies place on the markets and customers they serve. As Peter Drucker once said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” – a customer focused culture is no different.

3. Make it real – Define what “customer focus” means in your business. Customer focus will mean different things in different businesses, it is important to get clear on what it is and what it means in terms of expected behaviors in your business. Many companies have this term in their vision or mission statements but it stays in the “ether” what do those mission and vision statements mean in terms of actually guiding operations?

One of our clients recently started to change the language they use when talking about customers. One of their businesses is an online dating service. Rather than only focusing on new subscriptions they are looking at other metrics for example How many dates have we created? This type of metric is more meaningful to both customers and employees, it focuses on one of the outcomes important to customers and recognizes the contributions employees are making to improving people’s lives.

4. Put customers on the agenda. This is a simple action leaders can implement today. Are customers discussed in every meeting? If not why not? What impact will decisions have on customers? Are we making decisions that create short term gains at the expense of customer relationships?

5. Hire people with a customer focused mindset. People make have the technical skills required for a job, but do they have the “customer focus” skills and/or mindset? In order words are they value creators that recognize their role is to serve customers or serve those that do.

6. Help employees connect their work with customers. In many large organizations employees can feel disconnected from customers. Leaders need to provide the tools and communication to help them connect their work with the bigger picture.

7. Recognize customer focused behavior. Individuals demonstrating the right customer focused behaviors need to be highlighted and recognized in a meaningful way. If employees believe they will be recognized they will be motivated to do things differently.

Customer focus is really about understanding the customer’s world and what your organization does to improve it. If your employees don’t understand the customer and what makes your company different you are missing a significant opportunity to improve performance.

How do you improve the customer focus in your company?

Product Centric Versus Customer Centric – Does it matter?

Product Focused Companies

A product-centric organization is one that is focused on the products it brings to market rather than the customers that buy those products.

It looks to develop new products by leveraging technology or specialized skills that exist in the company. It starts by looking internally at its capabilities rather than externally at what needs are not being met.

The chart below is a simple comparison of the two approaches:

product versus customer centric companies

In large complex organizations, a product focus provides management with a direct line of sight into which products are selling well, at what profit and clear product owner accountability. While it does simplify the management of a firm it does come at a cost. It tends to create siloed organizations that compete for customers and often lacks a coordinated approach. In fact, many of the poor customer experiences happen as a result of this internal/product focus. The other downside is a myopic vision of the market that blindsides companies to key changes.

What business are you in?

Product-focused companies define themselves by their products. For example, Kodak originally defined its self as being in the photo processing business. This definition impacts the culture of the company in a way that hamstrings thinking and creates impediments to action. When the shift to digital came Kodak resisted this because of the impact on its “products – photo processing”.

The classic example of this is the “Last buggy whip company” the company that made the best buggy whips in America! It just failed to see the car was coming to obliterate its market.

The future for companies is to balance this product focus with a customer focus so that customers feed directly into decision making and are not an afterthought.

What trends are affecting the way your customers solve their problems?

Does your organization suffer from excessive product focus?

Learn more in the MarketCulture Academy

Why most companies don’t deliver great customer experiences

Poor Customer ExperiencesWe are all customers and we know what a great customer experiences feels like. We also know that a great customer experience influences our behavior, we want to talk about it with friends and we feel good about doing business with the company that provided it.

We know all this and yet we see time and again examples of poor experiences, just like this Range Rover customer above taking revenge on the company that clearly did not create the right car ownership experience. Why does this happen?

In our work with clients we have found a number of key reasons:

1. Culture – culture drives everything in an organization.  It creates the expectations for how employees behave. It can be left to chance or actively managed. The culture develops not from what people say is important and valued but by what is visibly shown to be important through the way people behave.

For example many companies say that customers are important but then will make decisions that will directly disadvantage the customer in the interests of the business. Bank fee increases, hidden charges, confusing pricing models are great examples of companies trying increase profits without providing customers with any more value.

This is usually the result of short term profit pressures. The message: customers are important until we need to make our numbers – then all bets are off!

2. Goaling – what’s measured gets done. The metrics a business uses will drive behavior, if none of those metrics include measures that are important to customers, people will not focus on the impact they are having on customers.

3. Hiring – hire people that buy into the company’s mission and actually want to add value and contribute to delivering on it. Specifically put hiring practices in place that filter out those that can’t connect their work with customers. Test potential employee’s mindsets, do they have customer friendly skills like the ability to listen, accept feedback, empathize with other people’s positions.

4. Silos – silos can be great, they drive efficiency and specialize expertise but when they become too competitive and an “us and them” mentally develops collaboration is crushed and customers will suffer.

So what do companies with strong customer experiences do right?

Improving the customer experience is about changing a company’s culture.

Companies that can achieve a customer culture take improving the customer experience as seriously as improving financial outcomes.

Our studies of organizations around the globe that have built strong customer cultures have revealed some major themes:

Strong and visible leadership

Leaders are not only committed to the customer experience but also able to instill that commitment in the rest of the organization. There are usually two primary  leaders involved in the process – a CEO or business unit leader who sets the vision and a head of strategy or customer experience who helps execute the strategy. In addition a guiding coalition or customer engagement council that brings in representatives of the broader leadership team it established to oversee progress.

These leaders commit to changing the way they do things in a way that sends the right message to the organization – that customers are important.

A clear mission, vision, and values

A clear purpose beyond “profitable growth”, one that actually does inspire and connect with people emotionally and is contextualized in a customer frame is crucial. This should drive a clear set of behavior standards that capture the intent of the organization and create accountability for customer service and the customer experience among staff members. Amazon’s mantra is “save customers money” and it drives everything (more on this here)

These are not just words on a page. Rather, companies must reinforce these beliefs and behaviors at employee inductions, coffee talks  and the regular team meetings. Companies should use real customer examples to ensure that the mission, vision, and standards resonate throughout the organization.

Customer Immersion

In larger organizations people get disconnected from customers, they lose site of the value being created and what its actually like to be a customer. A process of regular customer immersion sessions helps executives and employees regain that connection. This may include call center sessions, customer visits, bringing customers into internal planning sessions and so on.

Consistent Communication

All messages should incorporate customer focused elements so that managers and staff see the customer experience as a strategic objective that is as important as other financial outcomes. It’s essential that companies consistently communicate what constitutes the right customer experience not only in the strategic plan but also in job descriptions and performance evaluations.

Buy-in from all staff

Defining the reasons for the change and the personal value of being involved in a customer culture change initiative is crucially important. All staff need to understand the reason for the shift in focus and how it will benefit both customers and the business. Staff then ultimately need to see it is in their own self interest to change the way they go about their work.

A way to measure culture change

External and internal measures can be used to assess whether a company is actually changing, the image below shows the relationship between the internal measure of “Customer Culture” relates to the external measure of customer satisfaction and ultimately profit growth.

Customer Culture Foundation Pyramid

A customer culture can be measured using the Market Responsiveness Index which allows companies to see the progress they are making against a benchmark of companies around the world.

A message to leaders

Improving the customer experience is about changing a company’s culture. This change is the most powerful, legacy-defining step a leader can take to improve the performance of a business and the engagement of employees. Senior executives must not only take responsibility to make the customer experience a priority but also must allocate the necessary time and resources to make it a reality.

While there is work involved, it does not necessarily need to be expensive and the payoffs are enormous.  Show me any massively successful company in almost any industry and 8 out of 10 times they have a strong foundation based on a customer culture.

Why social media matters to customer centric businesses: Death by a thousand cuts

Much has been written about the impact of social media on corporations and yet many still dismiss it as a distraction.

The “United Break Guitars” video has now been viewed more than 12 million times. For those not familiar with this story, United Airlines passenger Dave Carroll had his guitar destroyed by the airline’s baggage handlers during a flight. After a battle with United for reimbursement and repeated rejections, he wrote a song decrying their poor customer service. (See video below)

So what?

I have heard a number of commentators suggest this incident has really not made a blip on the radar screen of United’s business. While others have argued it actually cost them a fortune.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between these positions. I did not stop flying United after seeing the clip but at the same time it did further diminish my opinion of them and how they run their business. As competition enters the market such as Virgin America I am more interested in considering these alternatives and what they have to offer.  The social media impact of hearing about negative experiences reinforces my perception United really does not care about retaining my custom and makes me open to hear about alternatives.

So while bad experiences like these shared on social media don’t necessarily change short term behavior they do reinforce a negative brand position for companies that is very difficult to reverse. They are constantly swimming upstream against waves of customer dissatisfaction.

For me I see negative social media as more like a “death by a thousand cuts”, it creates a slow but consistent erosion of a Brand’s reputation that increases its costs to acquire new customers and puts at risk its existing customer relationships.

Essentially it is amplified “negative word of mouth” so while the impact and influence of this will vary across the customer base, it is hard to argue it will not have an impact.

The bottom line

It does not have to cost more to do the right thing for your customers. Avoid the slow death of negative sentiment and instead give customers something positive to talk about, it will be like floating downstream…

What do you think the impact of social media has been on business?