Outside-In: Internal Customer Advocates

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Think for a minute about any simple interaction you have with a company. Something as simple as placing an order at a quick-serve restaurant. What appears on the surface to be a simple interaction, quickly lands into layer upon organizational layer of complexity that crosses multiple departmental and functional lines. Let’s count the teams involved in this transaction: the store operations team that has the cashiers and cooks, the information technology department that installed the register and the software, the accounting team that loads in the pricing, the supply chain team that made sure the right supplies were in place and the marketing team that created the desire within you to attend the restaurant in the first place. Each of those teams are being optimized for their function and typically the major decisions for those teams are being made a long distance away from the actual customer interaction. The challenge is that the customer doesn’t see, nor do they have any sympathy for your organizational structure. They merely want what they’ve ordered and don’t really care that the supply chain team is operating on a completely different ERP platform from the marketing team’s CRM platform. It means nothing.

So what can we do about this? How do we simultaneously deliver exceptional, personalized service and manage that service with the scale we need to grow our companies? One key to that question lies in creating customer advocates inside of your company. Individuals who advocate the voice and experiences of your customer from their perspective into other departments and advocate for your customers within their own department. Here are some actions you can take this week to improve.

1. End-to-end customer experience design and ownership. Identify key processes or key experiences that are critical to your success and map them out end-to-end from before the customer arrives on the scene to after their request is fulfilled. Think of the direct contact points the customer has, the people they interact with and the supporting systems that reside behind-the-scenes to make it all come together. Next, you need to go beyond the interactions they have with you – what are the complimentary products/services that are related to your product from the perspective of the customer? What are the substitute products/services? What events are going on in the life of the consumer or in the business environment of a B2B customer? All these factors play into how they experience your company. Armed with a solid map of these dynamics, now you can redesign your processes in a way that makes more sense to the customer. If it’s an important enough experience to your customers, you might even consider identifying an internal owner of that entire process; someone who will steward the experience from start to finish and make sure that all the supporting departments coordinate their efforts.

2. Create a network of customer advocates across your company that represent each department. Identify an individual within each department or functional area that has two main responsibilities. Responsibility number one is to represent the voice of the customer within their own department. They need to have the connection to actual customer feedback – listen in on customer advisory groups, focus groups and read verbatim customer comments regularly. They’ll use this insight to help their department shift from an internal focus to a broader, customer focus. Second responsibility for this individual is to represent their department in cross-functional customer planning sessions. Each department sees the interactions of the customer uniquely – the way a customer interacts with accounts receivable and collections may be completely different than how sales sees them. Further, the kind of insight that each department has about customers is unique as well (e.g. financial status from receivables vs. future dreams or plans from the sales team). By bringing together these divergent perspectives the company is better able to prioritize customer initiatives and view customer challenges holistically – looking at the total customer value chain, rather than just costs or just revenues.

Few things will radically shift your thinking and energize your company for action quicker than seeing your company operate through the eyes of an outsider. Take action this week to build customer advocates inside your company and see what you look like from the outside-in.

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