Have the Customer at the Heart of What You Do and Your Business Will Benefit

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An organization goes in the direction of its measures, or at least it tries to. That is why it has measures. So for example, if an organization has a target to make a profit, the people in that part of the organization will shape themselves around the need to make that profit. If everyone in the company is focused on that profit target, that will be the staff’s primary concern.

However, it often doesn’t work like that. The extreme cases like Enron are classic examples of a target driving behavior in a negative way, but there are plenty more.

Say you are a creative business and hire a bunch of creative people to service your creative hungry clients. You, then, focus your creative people on profit. What effect does that have on their creativity? Does it make them more creative, or does it divert their attention away from the creative process and end up giving them creator’s block? What has this got to do with giving the customers want they want?

Company Y expands to hit its target of 50 vans but, sadly, runs out of money.

At The Halo Works, we have worked in this area for many years, and we know that an organization that sets transactional targets such as how quickly representatives answer the phone or how many sales calls agents make are more likely to end up busy. Organizations follow their measures. But does being busy make your business better? We know from our work that busy is more likely to create a desire to “work the system,” which can create a climate that contributes to a move away from the customers. What we have found—and this is not rocket science—is that if an organization measures benefits and focuses on those, it will end up with a positive organization. A positive organization will want to focus on the customer because there is no benefit not to. But positive benefits include:

  • Attracting and keeping the best people. There are not too many customers, or staff for that matter who are committed to making your company rich, but people do like to feel that they have made a difference.
  • Attracting and keeping the best customers. People buy benefits. Customers are keen to realize the benefits they expected to gain from your product or service in a tangible way.
  • Removing the temptation to match numbers with expectations. This eliminates one of the biggest drivers to contravene normal corporate governance rules and focus away from the customer.
  • The organization will have a real and positive reason to sustain itself. This is because the reason for existing will be more than just profit. It will be a about doing things that help the customers and the staff members be the best they can be. This always benefits the customer.

Which company is going to be the most successful? One in which everyone is focused on profit? Or one where people are focused on the benefits the business provides? All our work has shown that the profitable businesses are the ones who align themselves behind the benefits they sell. Yes, they measure profits, but the main focus is on an alignment behind the core business they operate. Employees stay, and the customers are loyal.

A question we often are asked is how come Company X is doing so well while Company Y is struggling. Company Y appears to be working hard. You see its advertising or its vans driving around. But suddenly it goes out of business. Was it just unlucky? Can any organization just go bust? The good news is that it is not bad luck that forces companies out of business. It is a devotion to the wrong things, and being too successful in following those things.

Company Y might have set itself a target for growth, something like 50 vans on the road by the end of the next financial year. Company executives will, then, do everything it can to hit their target, including borrowing money, taking on slightly unprofitable contracts and not always paying attention to the service the company is providing. They are focused on a volume business, not a quality one.

Their customers, though, want something different. They do not care how many vans the company has. They want their parcels on time and delivered by people they trust. This is what Company X does so well. Company X focuses on quality, not just in its mission statement but also by what it measures. Company X executives think 50 vans would be nice, but the firm has only 32 really reliable drivers. So what is the point of 50 vans? A reliable driver delivers a reliable service. So Company X stays smaller and makes very good profits, and Company Y expands to hit its target of 50 vans but, sadly, runs out of money and has to close its doors.

Company X takes on 20 of Company Y’s drivers, 18 of whom prove to be very reliable. It gets some of Company Y’s customers, too, and has its best-ever profits. It was not luck. Company X is run by a team of people who know exactly what their customers want and the characteristics of those who can deliver what their customers want. They measure those things and stick with them. It makes Company X successful.

Being customer-focused allows Company X to do the “right” things for the customer. It is much easier to do the right thing when the organization is aligned behind the benefits that the organization sells and when employees are encouraged to provide those benefits and are measured on that. Ultimately, being customer focused is good for business. It may not meet a short-term target for mega-growth, but long term, clearly aligned customer focus will make organizations successful in a way that swift forays into the World of a Fast Buck will not.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I met a friend who had a sad business policy. He told me that he was doing well. Now he is in the overdrafts.
    My first question to him was, “Do you keep cash flow”. What is it? Was his reply. That solved half my slogging into his problems.
    The idea here is similar.
    At many times we turn to making profits. Is that what we opened our shops for?
    There was a time we were learning how the entity opened up the pinching of the belongings.
    Yes. I am talking of the case of Solomon VS Solomon.
    If one is unfamiliar with this, here is the gist of it.
    Solomon trade with few friends and did well. They shared the profits and all were happy.
    Things do not last in profit all days.
    One year there was a loss. The friends did not like this year and wanted to take possessions of Solomon’s personal belongings.
    The meanness of matter ends here. The court rules that the corporation is separate entity and nothing to do with the dog, house, TV or the bed of Solomon. They were only entitled for the amount they had invested in the company. The amount they had paid for the shares. If these were 100 dollars, they could ask for 100 dollars from the company no more, no less and that too the company had preferences to pay outsiders first. Then only the remainder would be dished out to them, if any.
    Why do I talk of this here?
    We have one time customer, we think. We sell and tend to forget. The sale.
    We have Co-Operatives as a very good example of customers as the shareholders who actively buy and sell, transact all the business with the Cooperative. This is theirs. They are the customers, they are the sellers and they own the goods.
    Now let us draw a line between temporary sell and the perpetual sales, the sale that keeps on rolling form one customer. Is this feasible?
    Why do we bring the Six Sigma and many now to me an archives phrase surprises the selling techniques?
    We have good broachers, good sell person, product and no cash.
    Where are these scientific techniques? Talk of these to bakers. He wants to bake the fresh oven breads that throw the aroma far and call the customers. They come, buy they go. Do I need them again? Do I call them again? No. the franchise, the aroma sells. The baker has no geometry or physics degree.
    His common sense tells him that he buys the floor for 2, add labour 2, add rent 1, and power 1. Total this to say 6.
    He sells this for 8. His profit is 2 per loaf.
    Is that very tricky, difficult?
    What we tend to do is go very scientific in areas where simple formulae work better then the Excel etc.
    To me one customer satisfied is enough. One at a time I win, I said one, one at a time.
    I do not want to look at the sales ledgers and list all then produce the ones who paid in time and who defaulted. That is for the accountant. They are paid to see the doubtful, and write off.
    My grounds are, when I am on the floor sell to one and make sure he/she comes back.
    One sale at a time and make a little profit. If my sales representative does this, I am happy .I concentrate on the marketing and think more or sales.
    While selling do not think of profit. That was in the feasibility studies. Customer or Profit?
    These duos do not work together. Start one. Finish one then the profit comes. How can you think of your wallet while looking at the wallet of the customers?
    That may lead you into depressions.
    Think of the case I stated. One at a time. Solomon and Solomon has taught more the entity.
    It has changed my thinking.
    I thank you
    Firozali A. Mulla MBA PhD
    P.O.Box 6044
    Dar-Es-Salaam
    Tanzania
    East Africa

  2. Hey Alison…. good column!

    Of course, keeping the customer at the front of mind isn’t always so easy. I tend to shy away from ‘golden rules’ and ‘magic bullets’ and the like, but I am tempted to offer one piece of advice.

    Every company needs a customer advocate at board level. This doesn’t need to be someone from marketing or service or sales. Indeed, it is better if the voice is the CEO’s. When any strategic decision is made, someone has to ask the question: “what would the customer think?” Want to shift customer service online? What would the customer think? Want to implement tiered service levels? What would the customer think?

    ‘What would the customer think’ becomes a routine check on market-place realities and goes some way to ensuring the the customer’s voice is heard.

    Francis Buttle

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