Successful businesses usually have one thing in common. Every employee is obsessed with creating a positive experience for their customers.
As an ideology, customer obsession means recognizing that the people who have direct contact with your customers on a daily basis are closest to their successes and their failures. Those front-line employees know the intricate details of what your customers love, like, and hate about your products, services, and touchpoints, and they’ve heard every point of frustration and delight firsthand.
Whether you work at a restaurant that serves coffee to consumers or at a curious minded research company that offers qualitative moderation to researcher buyers, every company has their own uniquely wise, front-line employees.
That’s why it’s so important that front-line employees are included in the decision-making process at every level of the company. Customer-obsessed companies ensure that the voice of the customer is present, listened to, and acted on at every important meeting, and not simply acknowledged by someone with the title of Chief Customer Officer.
And, that’s why every senior level employee ought to serve as a front-line employee on a regular basis. Not just for an hour or two during their first week of orientation, but rather for several days on an annual basis. Every single person in the company needs to have top-of-mind, first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a customer with their company and be able to apply that knowledge to everything they do.
For example, Muhtar Kent, the chair and CEO of Coca-Cola, valued at $80 billion, used to visit a store every week in order to learn from store managers and shoppers, and gather tidbits of knowledge about pricing, packaging, and market trends. Fifty visits a year, talking to many people each time, over many years makes for a comprehensive longitudinal research study.
Customer-obsessed companies also move power to their front-line employees. They allow the people who are most in-tune with customer needs and desires to be individually responsible and empowered to create value for the customer themselves. Rather than making customers suffer through endless “not my job” and delegation employees, customer-obsessed companies ensure that the buck stops at the front-line employee. Whatever the customer’s problem may be, the first person they speak with will be the person who solves their problem. This is what customers want and this is what customer obsessed companies strive to provide.
Amazon is one example of a company that has moved power to the front-line. They have empowered their front-line employees to offer gift vouchers and free months of Amazon Prime at their own discretion. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, valued at $900 billion, has said, “If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right. That’s customer obsession.”
In essence, it’s reversing, or even flattening, the hierarchy of power – pushing managers onto the front-line and pulling front-line experts into management. It’s creating an environment where the CEO, the C-suite, and every single employee of the company understands who their core customers are. One where every single employee understands and feels connected to the purpose of the company and takes company results personally. One where every single employee feels like an owner.
Because leadership is not just for the CEO. It’s for everyone from line manager to clerk to associate to manager, director, and VP.