At Understand & Serve we believe the companies that win are those who understand their customers best – their needs, views and life-context – and then serve them in the best way they possibly can – with great products, a clear mission, and personal, responsive service.
Sadly many companies have still not adopted this seemingly obvious approach. They might have vainglorious mission statements that discuss the importance of the customer and how they should be treated. The CEO might talk to the media about how he or she believes passionately in developing quality products in sustainable ways.
But I think customers and employees of most companies in the Western world are unpersuaded by these grand words because in many cases there’s a disconnect between on one hand what the CEO and the latest company ad campaign says, and on the other what we read in the newspaper, hear from politicians or share with millions of other consumers through social media about how companies actually behave in the real world.
In other words while a company might spend millions trying to persuade us they’re one thing, we often have the evidence right in front of our face that they’re actually something completely different. The result? We don’t trust what they say. And if we have no trust, we won’t buy from them.
Sometimes of course every company in a particular product sector is behaving more or less the same way so we may have no choice but to hold our noses and do business with them anyway (I’m sure we can all think of a few usual suspects here – cable providers, cellphone companies, oil companies, etc, etc).
This isn’t to say that I believe companies behave worse today than they did in the past. Entirely the opposite in fact. Companies have clearly been thinking deeply about their corporate image in recent years, working hard to deliver better quality products faster and cheaper to market and at the same time ensure more equitable working practices for their employees and those of their suppliers.
But for a number of reasons it doesn’t seem to be enough. Consumer confidence in corporate America is at a low. More people now look to government to ‘reign in the market’, ‘curb the excesses’ of ‘fat-cat’ bosses, regulate and legislate more in order to ‘protect consumers’. Today there’s a deep seated anti-business attitude in our culture that’s infecting the media (old and new), politicians and (therefore) consumers. Capitalism is bad. Companies are bad. We need to be protected.
What on earth is business to do in the teeth of this seeming perfect storm? Clearly there’s no magic bullet. But equally not every company is affected as badly as others. In many instances companies have glowing reputations, fabulously high customer ratings and reviews, and are returning increased profit to their shareholders. What do these companies have in common? If we can figure that out, perhaps there’s hope not just for individual businesses, but for corporate America as a whole.
It’s Life Jim But Not As We Know It
I believe successful businesses of every kind have a number of inter-related things in common that separate them from the pack.
1: They stand for something bigger than themselves
2: The customer is more important than the shareholder
3: Success is built over the long-term, not quarter to quarter
4: Service isn’t everything, it’s the only thing
5: They’re great (non-fiction) storytellers
Successful companies today are the ones that have realized that they exist to serve the needs and interests of their customers. Period. They ensure that everything they do ladders up to that goal. And they have become adept at using the very tools that have exposed the bad behavior of their competitors to tell their own story in a powerful, personal way to all the stakeholders that matter – customers, advocates, the media, Wall Street, shareholders.
What I’m describing as a prescription for success obviously can’t be put into practice overnight. But really that’s the point. Being a customer-centric business is hard. It requires leadership and a sense of mission that pervades the entire organization. It also can’t be faked – and ultimately I believe it’s that point that will save corporate America. Companies will come to see that success is intimately tied to behavior and that bad behavior WILL get found out.
“Dif tor heh smusma”