In our customer experience consultancy, we find there’s one thing that consistently prevents companies from adopting a more customer-centric approach.
It’s not (as you might guess) cost!
Instead, the problem is priorities, and specifically the priorities of people who make critical company decisions. You see, as people move up the chain of command, they get further and further removed from the average customer. Executives spend their days dealing with big-picture strategic issues, personnel management and company finances. They’re not greeting customers or closing sales. Even lower level employees at company headquarters are far removed from day to day exchanges with customers.
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And unless there’s a concerted effort, decisions made at headquarters tend to be about the company’s goals, not the customer’s needs.
Turning this around doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s simply a matter of reminding the people “in the office” that customers matter. Here are 7 ways to do just that.
1. Give Your Customer a Seat at the Table
You wouldn’t really invite a random customer to sit in on executive meetings, but you can still do it figuratively. Designate a chair at each meeting as the “customer chair.” Put a sign on it, attach balloons to it, do whatever you have to do to make sure that the people in the room remember that every decision must consider the customer.
2. Have Someone Take the Customer’s Side at Meetings
Instead of an empty chair, designate someone to be the customer’s advocate at meetings, providing an honest assessment of how any proposed action will affect customers. Meeting attendees will be forced to consider the customer’s viewpoint, and team members who play the role of advocate will learn to think like a customer.
3. Put Management Employees to Work
Walt Disney was known for wandering his theme parks incognito, riding the rides and looking for ways to improve visitors’ experiences. Disney’s approach wasn’t all that different from what we do at our consultancy when we conduct customer mirrors, posing as customers and taking notes on the experience.
Disney still sends management employees to its theme parks, only now they’re asked to work there one week each year. You can do the same at your company by having management work for a short time at retail shops, hotels or restaurants. By interacting with customers and employees, managers learn a lot about who the customers are and what they want.
4. Put Management Employees on the Phone
Customer Service representatives spend their days listening to customer issues and complaints, but those calls seldom reach the ears of management employees. Change that dynamic by having management spend some time listening in on customer service calls.
5. Assign Customer Complaints to Managers
Another common strategy is to ask each of your managers to respond to one customer complaint per month. This puts managers close to customer issues and encourages them to find better ways to respond to common problems.
6. Create a Buddy System
At sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger, every employee in the London support center is assigned a ‘buddy shop” and works there twice each year. Staff at headquarters have a chance to interact directly with customers and each shop gains a liason at the main office.
7. Go for a Ride
Sales reps and installers meet with customers all the time. Send office and management employees to ride along with them periodically and they’ll come back with a new perspective and a wealth of information. Not only will they see who the customers are, they’ll likely get an earful from ‘on the ground’ employees about the customers’ needs and the challenges of meeting them.
Corporate headquarters can be an insular place, and it’s hard to keep your focus on customers if you don’t ever see them. Try giving them a voice at meetings and sending your executives and management team out into the field. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.
Do you think most companies’ management is out of touch with customers? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.