Putting the Customer First

It’s not rocket science but why does business constantly struggle to get it!

Business should have one goal – and that is to make a positive difference in the lives of customers, regardless of whether they are the end consumer or another business.

Business should not be a struggle; it should be easy and enjoyable – if the total focus is to make a positive difference. So, why do we take a simple, easily understood concept and make it complicated and difficult? Because we forget to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Most businesses are set up from an operational perspective. Consequently, we talk about the importance of the customer, but our actions demonstrate that it’s more about the business than the customer.

Just look at the mess Telecom is in now. It’s a prime example of an organisation that exploited its monopoly to the max with a totally “inside out” focus that had little regard for the customer. Its focus was totally on delivering value to the shareholder. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost and it will take much more than the resignation of the CEO and a new chairman to turn that culture and focus around.

What about our beloved national airline? Finally, with a little help from the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Air New Zealand is conceding that it should at least pay compensation for bumping passengers off over booked flights. If Air New Zealand was truly customer focused (as it so often likes to tell us) it would abandon the customer unfriendly practice altogether. Sadly, the truth is that passengers are not the airline’s top focus. Let’s face it, we are just bums on seats.

Business has to wake up and realise that, in today’s market, the customer is in charge. We have all the power.

Given this environment, it’s no surprise that business is finding it increasingly difficult to pinpoint sustainable competitive advantages, that will allow them to attract and retain customers. The sheer number of options customers now have means that customer loyalty is declining.

In today’s market, where almost every product or service is a commodity, most competitive advantages are short lived as other organisations strive to match it. This is why a business strategy based on price, especially for SMEs, is a recipe for failure.

So, listen up, telecommunications companies, insurance companies, banks, big box retailers and all those other organisations that have been publicly bagged by attendees at my recent seminars and on TV programmes like Target and Fair Go. Understand that in a world of excess, uniformity and repetition, customers buy experiences, not products or services. When people feel good about their experiences they will not only return, they will tell their friends.

The solution is to create a sustainable competitive advantage, based on a total customer focus. The cost of retaining existing customers is much less than the increasingly expensive and complex task of creating new customers. The best strategy is to cultivate customers by delivering consistent experiences that make a positive difference, by adding value. This means building real relationships, not just based on the physical aspects of what you deliver, but, also on emotions and empathy.

The great news is that this approach is achievable for all businesses. All it requires is committed leadership with vision – the creation of a totally customer focused culture, systems and processes that have been designed from the customer’s perspective. How often do you tap into the wealth of ideas your people have? Will you put a sustained programme in place or will this be another one-day wonder. It’s easy for your staff to get cynical.

When you adopt a totally customer focused strategy, one that is committed to putting your people and customers first, you experience the rewards in many aspects of your business. Operating costs will reduce. You’ll start attracting the right people to work with you, your staff retention rates will increase, customer complaints will be less of an issue, your customers will be more tolerant, and the focus on price as the only thing to talk about will be less of an issue. Your people will be more focused, creative and have a greater feeling of involvement and become more engaged. Your customers will love the change in attitude and all those little surprises that will greet them on a regular basis, because it will be all about them.

Chris Bell is managing director of Customer Experiences; a company that specialises in helping businesses improve the way in which they interact with customers and clients. Click here to contact us.