How do you operationalize “Customers are our #1 priority”?

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I recently moved to a new part of town, and the local Wendy’s has “We love customers” on their placard. My dry cleaner has the same message printed on their hangers.

Who cares?

What is the purpose of such a generic statement? Do other dry cleaners have hangers that say, “We’re really indifferent about customers, but thanks for using us”? Do they expect an emotional connection to result from this supposed outpouring of love? I guess it’s possible – but very unlikely.

I get the same reaction when I see “vision” statements such as “Customers come first.” What does this mean?

That the company doesn’t care about making a profit? Unlikely.

That employees don’t matter, just customers? I hope not! How do you serve customers without employees?

These statements are just fluff, designed to make the company feel good about itself. They won’t drive a customer-centric approach. A true customer vision guides employees to make decisions when managers aren’t there. They help teams make tradeoff decisions when designing products or services. “Customers are our #1 priority” doesn’t help anybody make a decision outside of “Make sure your product doesn’t suck.” And who needs a vision statement for that?

To develop a customer experience vision statement, start with the outcome you want to create. How do you want customers to feel in interacting with you? That you’re the easiest company to work with? That you’re the most consultative? That you understand them? Work with front-line teams to establish how you want customers to feel when working with you.

Next, have leadership review the frontline staff results. You want your C-Level team to buy in on the outcomes you’re looking to create. Use the front-line staff and your brand as inputs to develop your vision. The following visions can create very different customer experiences:

  • We will be the easiest company to work with.
  • We will be your trusted partners.
  • We will be your lowest cost provider, passing the efficiencies onto you
  • We will be flexible, co-creating the best outcomes.

The right vision can’t simply be copied by your competitors, because they reflect how you go to market. If you want to be the easiest company to work with, reduce options to hide complexities from your customers; if you’re instead the most flexible, then you’ll want to add options. The trusted partner will add staff to help customers manage through complexity. And the lowest cost provider removes the expensive options.

None of these visions are inherently bad or good. But each requires specific product, service, and staffing solutions to support them.

A customer experience vision is critical to create a customer experience that differentiates you from your competitors. Engage both your front lines and leadership to align on the best ways to serve your customers.

Or keep printing “We love our customers” on your hangers. Maybe someone will believe you.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Jim: thanks for asking this question, because it shines light exactly where it needs to be shined: on the gap between marketing platitudes, and the policies, codes of conduct, processes, procedures, workflows, and lines of software code that makes it possible for them to happen. Many bloggers are strong on the former, but weak on the latter. I think about this every time I read “be customer obsessed,” (how do you operationalize obsession? – so far, nobody has answered this with clarity.) or “exceed customer expectations!” Later, I find out that internally, things aren’t quite so idealistic: profits and profit margins come into play, as well (as you have pointed out).

    As practitioners, I find we’re heavy on bluster and short on operational details. I’d like to see a fuller discussion of the nuts-and-bolts side of some of today’s common marketing and sales admonitions. Maybe your article will get the ball rolling.

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