Five “Little Things” That Deliver Big Customer Alignment Results


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“The devil is in the details” must be among the most overused phrases in the English language. But only because it’s so true. And the phrase aptly describes five “little things” companies can do to accomplish much better corporate alignment with customers.
Now, I must forewarn you that these deeds may not seem so small to you. However, I describe them in the diminutive because the majority of companies claiming progress towards aligning strategy with customers, process with strategy and technology with process routinely brush them off as inconsequential factors. But if your company takes these five steps, you’ll likely leapfrog over competitors that have been at the customer-alignment game much longer than you.

  1. While engaged in strategic planning, let your “inner customer” drive your agenda: The purpose of customer alignment is to create new value for customers in ways that will add new value back to the company. But most of us start the planning process with unconsciously self-serving perspectives regarding what customers want and what will trigger their buying from you (the concept that “brand” delivers value to customers is one hideous example). Consequently, we do a lousy job exploring ways to add new value to customers, followed by a superb job of exploring ways customers can deliver new value back to us. The antidote? Come to planning sessions pretending you’re your own customer and, as a customer, tell your company what to do and how to do it to win and keep your business. Nothing more than role-playing, really. But devastatingly effective when done right. In fact, when we facilitate Hyper-planning sessions, we start off playing the customer role, which many groups initially view as adversarial until they start “hearing” the customer, and they join in.

  2. When redesigning business process to align with customer-centric strategies, ignore process efficiency completely. You’ll be amazed at what happens. If you focus process design around efficiency, you’ll certainly achieve some, chipping away at process defects here and there. But if you focus on adding value to customers with each activity, step and task, instead of chipping away at process defects you’ll wash away entire flows and processes—and often eliminate layers of supervision that interfere with empowerment of customer-facing employees. This outcome occurs because almost every company’s processes are designed from a functional silo perspective with self-justification in mind. But when we strip away work that’s not adding value, we achieve much greater efficiencies than by trying to be efficient.

  3. When analyzing and designing your business process, uncouple workflow from work process and couple workflow and information flow. These are the roots of our Visual Workflow approach to process design. In a variable work (non-manufacturing) environment, workflow—how work moves from function to function or stakeholder to stakeholder—is joined at the hip with information flow. Unfortunately, manufacturing-based process approaches such as Six Sigma and Lean don’t consider information flow until after the fact, if at all, which obscures scads of opportunities to add value to customers by better synchronizing workflow and information flow and by implementing a whole range of automation support tools. And in a variable environment, work process—which is how individuals do their work—is totally subordinate to workflow, whereas Six Sigma in particular starts at the wok process level. That’s putting the cart ahead of the horse in CRM.

  4. When selecting any type of automation technology, especially CRM software, map your workflow and work process and make vendors demonstrate their level of support. Of, how most vendors like to come in to snow potential customers with dog and pony shows, bells and whistles demonstrations and only tangential treatment of customer requirements. Actually, an advance hint as to how well you’ll work with a vendor is how well it responds to receiving your “process book” with instructions to demonstrate what you want to see. Good vendors will appreciate your specificity (which may warn them off pitching business they can’t or shouldn’t win), while others will bob and weave and even tell you their software will “adapt to anything.” I only know two top quality CRM packages that bear any resemblance to silly putty, and even these have limitations and boundaries.

  5. Before you make major changes, develop a comprehensive project plan and load it on a professional project management tool. Customer alignment itself isn’t a project, it has no end. And many companies and consultants as well use that as an excuse for using “project management light” when aligning with customers or implementing CRM. But the initial implementation of customer-alignment principles is a massive project affecting the majority of most companies. The stronger your project management approach, the more likely you are to succeed. And you should manage your project using an automation tool powerful and sophisticated enough to keep you and key managers on top of everything all the time. We use Ace Project out of Quebec—a hosted solution—but there other options as well. Unfortunately, none of these options go by the name “Microsoft Project,” which is a dinosaur of the tallest order.

That’s it. “Five easy pieces.” You can do them, and you really should.


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