Customers are everyone’s responsibility. That’s hardly news, or even new thinking. So much so that if you still think that customer interactions stop at the front office then it may well be time for a critical reappraisal of your business model before your customers depart for more integrated organisations.
However, if your customer outlook stops at the idea that everyone in your organisation is targeted to deliver customer excellence then you are potentially missing out on one of the most valuable resources which your company has available to it; your customers themselves. Put simply, when you create the conditions which make customer excellence the responsibility of everyone in your organisation, you are seeing customer interactions as a one-way street. Whilst there is nothing wrong in that per se, wouldn’t it be so much better if customer interactions went two ways?
Just think of the benefits to be gained when your customers become partners in your success. Imagine the ready market which you would have when your customers became vital partners in developing new products and ideas. Consider the enhancements in reputation as you become known as a business which has transformed from selling things to customers into one which co-creates genuine solutions.
You may think that your business is already on this pathway. After all, don’t you spend considerable time and money in conducting customer surveys and in tracking customer spend. Realistically though, how much of that is designed to tell you what is happening now or to confirm customer acceptance for a product which you have already created? Maybe it’s time to review your development strategy in order to bring customers in at an earlier point in the development of products and ideas.
Looking beyond faster horses
Now I know what you are thinking! If you go down this route isn’t there a strong chance that your ability to create new products will be circumscribed by customer feedback. Or, as Henry Ford famously commented, “if I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”
But there is a difference between being led by the customer and leading the customer in mutually beneficial co-creation. We are not suggesting that you hand over your entire development effort to responding to customer whims; merely that you bring customer ideas and perceptions into your quest for developing innovative solutions.
How easy this will be will depend on the existing culture within your organisation. If your current setup is one of siloed departments which only interact when necessary and team leaders who are more concerned with the race to the top rather than how their teams can benefit the organisation then you will probably need to reset the culture before you bring customers into the development mix. On the other hand, if the culture is already one which embraces free and open exchange of ideas then it will only be a short step to creating the conditions in which your customers are true partners in success.