One of the most Customer-centric executives I know is Bob Knebel, Vice President of Sales for Bombardier Flexjet. Bob is committed to continuous improvement in people and processes and is recognized by his peers as a superior change agent, capable of motivating sales teams and customers alike. The following is an excerpt of an interview I did with Bob when he was the Vice President of Domestic Sales for the Citation division of Cessna Aircraft Company. Since Bob always views the Customer as starting with a capital C, I have done the same. Here are some of the thoughts Bob shared with me on Customer-Centricity:
In our industry we have come to realize that it is not nearly as important that our Customers understand our strategies as it is for us to understand theirs. Our Customers will be the ones that define what ‘competitive advantage’ really means, whether overtly or not, and will somehow indicate that to us. To succeed, we had better be ready to listen and respond.
Let me preface my comments with an admission that my perspective reflects my experience which has been primarily in the business jet industry. While many would consider this a particularly unique marketplace, I would venture to guess that many of the challenges faced by the aviation industry are universal in nature.
With respect to Customer relationships, our emphasis today is changing. Rather than focusing in a tactical manner on the immediate sale, while clearly that is always a part of our thinking, we are emphasizing the development of trust and true partnership in our relationships, which we believe will lead to mutual advocacy. That has now become one of our key objectives.
We find that advocacy is more meaningful, and goes far above and beyond mere Customer satisfaction. We have benchmarked numerous companies in a variety of industries, including those who hold themselves up as customer relationship management (CRM) specialists. Through this effort we have learned that Customer satisfaction, in many cases, has been measured in pretty shallow terms.
We have also spent some time thinking about Customer loyalty. A Customer can be satisfied and not necessarily loyal. Or, they can be loyal, but is that enough to ensure a partnership? What happens if the Customer no longer needs our product or service, or has outgrown our capability to serve them?
We have been trying to understand the next step up on this Customer relationship scale, …beyond satisfaction, …beyond loyalty, …and we think that is advocacy. If a Customer believes in us, trusts us enough to recommend us to others, and encourages people they know to do business with us, then as an advocate for us we already know that they are loyal. If we can achieve that, then we can be pretty certain that if they have the need themselves in the future, they will do business with us again.
So our goal is to understand advocacy; and with it the processes we need to utilize to generate a high level of trust and confidence in our Customers so that we can meet their true needs, not just their product requirements.
We really want a more intimate relationship with our Customers, and if we can achieve that we will create a climate of mutual advocacy. When that occurs, then we have laid the groundwork that will create genuine competitive advantage, something another vendor will be hard pressed to take away.
If you want to read more of Bob’s thoughts, email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you the full 8 page interview.