Inspired customer leadership in the very best companies on earth came from the heart and soul of the impassioned leader of the organization who had an instinct on where to take the business for customers, and absolute clarity on how to inspire the organization to make it happen. These companies all started small, and it was the personal mission of the person at the helm who inspiration drove the business to where it is today.
Lands’ End, for example, when it began started in a humble walk up building in Chicago’s sailing hardware district – and it was Gary Comer’s personal vision that moved the company forward. In fact, even as they grew, he pulled them back to their roots, saying:
“Think small, think one customer at a time…the rest will take care of itself.”
And it did:
“One day Gary Comer went into his office, and he emerged carrying with him a yellow pad on which he had written “The Lands’ End Principles of Doing Business .” These were an important beacon for all of us. They have stood the test of time and remain on the Lands’ End Web site. There are eight principles covering product creation and pricing, why returns are accepted for any reason at any time, and the power of the guarantee. The “Principles of Doing Business” guided us as they translated Gary’s gut and guts about the business into actions we could follow. It galvanized us as an organization.” ~ Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action
Customer leaders have two traits that set them and their companies apart – they have gut and guts:
“Customer leaders need the guts of a salmon. Think about it. The salmon goes head first against the current. It pushes on to its destination, unscathed by resistant forces. The salmon leader turns the company from facing itself to facing its customers. Salmon leaders use business meetings to guide and challenge people to understand how what they’re doing affects the customer. Salmon leaders constantly ask if the tactics being served up are connected across the organization. Salmon leaders are not afraid to trade short-term profits for long-term gains with customers. They know how to explain the commitment to the board and the company so that they can transfer this clarity to everyone else.” ~ Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action
Take a page from the actions of customer leaders with gut and guts. These ten actions will put your personal stamp on your relationship with customers:
1. Know What You Want to be to Your Customers
Your business otherwise will continue to run on auto-pilot, the functions of each of your operating areas (service, support, marketing, operations, sales, etc) churning out what they do – without much real conversation about what it all means to customers, and how it affects them. Like the leader with gut, take the time to stew about it and gain the clarity of how you want your customers to think of you and what greater purpose you are performing for them.
2. Communicate That Purpose for Your Business
This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many companies have every part of their company defining what they do separately – the parts don’t add up for customers. For example, one emerging home builder changed his mission from ‘building contractor’ to ‘delivering on the American Dream.’ That was as much for his internal team (probably more) than for customers. Do this litmus test to see how connected your company is in knowing the higher mission they all collectively serve for your customers. The next ten people you speak to, simply ask them, “What’s your job?” and “What’s our collective job?” You’ll be surprised at the varied answers you’ll get. No wonder – if you haven’t been the beacon for them telling them where you’re headed, they’ll chart their own course. They’ll decide on their own where they’re taking your company for customers.
3. Establish Guidelines for How to Treat Customers
Consider the various dimensions of your business and make a set of statements about how each one of them should show up to customers. Be clear about what the frame of reference should be in people’s minds for making decisions about each dimension and what your standards for customer treatment are.
4. Listen to the Front Line and Talk to Customers Regularly
The frontline is talking to your customers every day. On a regular basis, sit yourself down in the center of them and ask them what the key issues are. But don’t just listen. Write down the issues and get someone assigned to taking care of the major ones. Then personally reach out to customers to understand at a greater level of granularity just what is happening so you know what to do about it. Then fix the issues. This is simple, it works, and it puts your skin in the game. When you let your company and customers know of your direct understanding and involvement in resolving these issues it will have an impact and it will set a standard and an example people will emulate.
5. Track and Trend Complaints and do Something About Them
Beyond the conversations you have with the frontline, give them some sort of tool to track and trend those issues. By doing this, you have an immediate “hand on the throttle” management device for steering your company. As you track this feedback month after month and year after year, the trends will help you understand in more detail what your customer needs are. Most importantly, this type of discipline will let you take “real time” action on resolving issues that may be sending your customers away. I know that everyone wants to survey their customers – but really – we’ve exhausted our customers with the mass that goes out with no apparent action that follows. If you must survey to get that statistical data we all crave, you will find that it validates what you will have already found out by trending and tracking customer complaints and issues. In fact, if your survey is telling you new things you don’t know – you’re just way too distant from your customers – and in a most precarious position in your relationships with them.
6. Know Your Customer Segments and How Their Needs Vary
Especially where resources are tight, you will want to cluster your customers by how much revenue they generate and their profitability. From these clusters, you should identify commonalities in what they need from you. The intention is never to under-serve those with lesser profitability potential – but you must absolutely be aware of those power players on whom your livelihood may be most dependent. Once you know these clusters, you can come up with creative ways for serving them – allocating resources in sync with financial outcomes. For example, you may have a wide number of smaller customers who, rather than sending out an individual to call on them separately, can be brought together for a networking event that benefits them all and reduces your cost for servicing them.
7. Give the Front Line the Training, Support and Tools to do Their Jobs
The frontline is the company to your customers. This is not the place to cut costs. Ensure that you allocate ample resources to ensure that they have what they need to give your customers what they need. This means ample communication from you (that won’t cost a thing), but also the right training, skill development and technology resources. There’s nothing worse, for example, than putting a customer through watching their sales rep struggle with slow response time or inadequate support materials, or listening to a service operator struggling with a system to find customer information.
8. Conduct a Quarterly or Monthly Customer Loss Review Meeting
This is a potent profit management technique you can begin today. To prep for this meeting, compile the data on customer defections so that you know which customers you lost and why. In addition, assign your key lieutenants to make outbound calls to up to ten customers who have left during the month or quarter to find you why they left. There’s nothing quite as compelling as a customer speaking right to someone who has accountability for making something happen. Customers are often so amazed by the effort that they consider trying the company again. After the calls have been completed, convene the meeting to discuss what’s happening with your customers and what is driving them away. In that meeting get alignment on how to prioritize the issues and assign accountability. Use subsequent loss review meetings to track progress on resolving issues, continuing the process of calling customers who defected.
9. Keep Track of Your Customers
You should know the flow of your customers in and out of your business. It’s the easiest way to make customers in terms of a ‘score’ people can follow and you can constantly keep top of mind. Find a way to figure out how to constantly track, actively discuss and manage these five things about your customers. These are “guerrilla metrics,” they help you power the customer onto the agenda of your business:
Metric 1 – New Customers – Volume and Value
Metric 2 – Lost Customers – Volume and Value
Metric 3 – Renewals with Reasons
Metric 4 – Revenue and Profitability by Customer Group
Metric 5 – Referrals by Customer Group
10. Prove it With Your Actions
Finally, take the actions that are good for your customers. Make clear decision decisions that put the customer first – then let EVERYONE know what they are – your customers, your suppliers and most importantly, your company. This is what people are looking for – to see if there’s more behind the customer commitment than lip service.
You need to prove that there is.
Image credit: Lands’ End