During our early days in business, I recall attending a company reception and complaining to a friend about my workload. I was saying something brilliant like, "If it weren't for these constant customer interruptions, I could really get some work done!" My colleague's eyes drifted away from me and over my shoulder. I turned and stood looking into the eyes of our CEO. As I looked for an escape, he put his hand on my shoulder and explained to me, as a grandfather would to a child, that those customers are your work - if they weren't here, you wouldn't be either.
In business, we all occasionally lose sight of that often quoted law - customers are not an interruption of work, but the purpose of it. It really is a matter of attitude re-adjustment. We all know this fundamental truth, but are often consumed in the tedious roar of our day to day workload. In short, we lose perspective. Customers (unless you are the power company) are not dependent upon us - we are dependent upon them. They are not doing us any favors - the obligation is ours. They are people and organizations with many product and service options available to them. They are the life blood of our business.
Enough lecturing. How do we live this attitude? How do we center our business around the customer rather than requiring them to adapt to us? Try the following three step process:
- Obtain Customer Feedback: The first step in knowing where to go is knowing where you are. It is imperative that all businesses construct and implement a customer feedback program. There are a variety of interview forms, questionnaires and other methods available to us. Whichever method you use, you must insure that feedback on customer satisfaction reflects a representative cross section of customers and that the sample size is large enough to be valid.
- Grade Your Customer Orientation: After feedback is gathered, bring your company staff or team together and assess how customer centric you are, with complete honesty. Create a customer satisfaction report card for your business which is updated frequently. Beigard, Fisher and Rayner identify four tiers of organizations based on their degree of customer orientation. Each level has two different factors - firsthand knowledge of the customer and the degree of responsiveness to changes in customer demands:
Where is your company?
- Speculation Based: very limited knowledge of customer needs; unresponsive to changes in customer requirements
- Information based: Knowledgeable about customer historical requirements; low responsiveness to changes in requirements
- Service based: Knowledgeable about customer's historical and present needs; responsive to changes in customer requirements
- Desire based: Highly knowledgeable about current customer needs and their desires for the future; extraordinary, anticipatory responsiveness to changes in customer requirements
- Develop an Improvement Action Plan: The final step in this process is to ACT on it. Use the feedback - discuss your strengths, challenges and areas to improve. Create a track-able plan which holds you and the company accountable for implementing changes.
Centering your business around the customer exemplifies the win-win relationship. It improves the quality of life for your customer while creating success and prosperity for your organization.