How to Keep Everyone Focused on the Customer Strategy


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I watched someone learning to plough using two shire horses. The horses were very well trained and experienced. The hapless man managing the two horses was a complete novice, but then he had a hallelujah moment. He realised that he was managing the horses as if they were a small car which had no mind of its own and had to be controlled, whereas what he had were two intelligent creatures far more experienced in what he was doing than he was, so he changed tack. Instead of correcting each small, perceived deviation from his will, he focused on the horizon and let the horses take more control. The field was then successfully ploughed.

Measuring and Motivating Performance

So what can Victorian farming methods teach us about how to run organisations now? I am not suggesting we go back to quill and ink, although anyone who has seen my writing will tell you that I write like a Benedictine monk, but without the quill. What I do think is that we need to let go of some of the whizzy ways we use to measuring and target people, who are way more intelligent and experienced than shire horses and let them be as good as they want to be without checking up on them so often. But, how to this without losing direction? The answer we have discovered is to move from snapshot data, from a moment in time, which is what much of the information used to measure performance is, to real time data, shared with as many people as possible. This is especially vital to those delivering the service, to allow them to use it as radar, and ensure the horizon you are aiming for is where you want the organisation to be and that they are going to the same one, not some mirage of success for the short term.

The answer we have discovered is to move from snapshot data, from a moment in time, which is what much of the information used to measure performance is, to real time data, shared with as many people as possible.

For my whole working life I have worked in services. From airlines to research agencies my specialism has been services. When I first started out services were a slightly quirky sector, and in many cases packaged up in the same way as if they were a can of beans. Measurement tended to be infrequent, if at all and when it was measured the service was chopped up and measured as though it was an industrial product, rather than something delivered by humans for humans. Hardly surprising then that service suffered. Organisations follow their measures therefore if service is measured using a chopped up, transactional method the service winds up being chopped and industrial too. Hardly what the customer wants if they have paid for top notch service, nor what the often highly trained and personable person delivering the service feels good about either. It was to answer this need that Halo was developed eight years ago.

Measuring is a Tool, Not a Weapon

Halo is a model which allows organisations to measure in the benefits space of the total service, without chopping it up and getting all industrial about it. It works exceptionally well and there are numerous case studies which explain how it has been deployed and the difference it makes. We use Halo so we know this, but, and it is a big but, in the last eight years we have learnt a whole lot about how it works, and how to deploy it, and this is where the shire horse example was a hallelujah moment for us here at Halo too. What we have seen is that when using Halo measures they work best when they are used as a radar, as an ongoing measure, so being researchers we set about understanding why this might occur. What we discovered is that there are some crucial factors in having management information become a tool, and not a weapon and that is what I am keen to share here.

Where the data is given first in an open access format to those delivering the service it allows them to focus on the core purpose of the organisation. They can use the data to become more skilled at delivering the best service for their customers and users in the most cost effective way for the organisation. Employing humans gives organisations a massive advantage, especially when the service is also being delivered for humans, as one tends to understand another, and if the data is configured in such a way that the service deliverer doesn’t have to become a data expert to use it, the chances are they will want to use it. This real time data can then be captured as a “snapshot” for corporate use, perhaps monthly or even quarterly if there is real trust in their teams, but the crucial point is that it must be given and used by the service delivery teams first.

So the key points we learnt in ensuring that service monitoring works are:

  • Ask customers what they think and feel using really short question sets, six to eight ticks should do it. By asking them what they think and feel, they will then tell you about the process your service took. This works because most people are really good at talking about what actually happened, but find thoughts and feelings more difficult to articulate. So do the tricky thing for them with tick boxes, and they will act as on site auditors and tell you precisely what happened on the ground, often in great detail.
  • Keep the data usage real time and simple. Use wizards, rather than terminology to allow non experts to become experts on customer feedback, rather than having data controllers and experts on software systems.
  • Give those managing the service teams open access to the detail of the results from customers; they will use it to fix the detail of the service, which is what customers want. Use top line data for the board and senior teams, and when there are explanation to be done, ask those with the access to the detailed data to give those explanations, alongside their plans to improve things. By sharing in this way all the power goes to your well trained people, and because you have the right people in your team they will use it well and do the right thing. As one of my very wise clients told me; “all the best people use all the tools we give them”. If you find people are not using the tools designed to help, then look again at the people. Also if you find someone who takes the information, loves it and works with it, they are your stars of the future. Not only because they clearly love delivering a great service, but also because they are accumulating knowledge which will grow in value and use.

In short, what we found was that just like ploughing a field with shire horses the answer was simpler. The crucial thing is to harness the technology available, let your people be as good as they can be when they are being at their best and as a leader keep your eyes firmly fixed on the horizon and what you want to achieve, both for your organisation and its staff, and your customers and stakeholders.

Alison Bond
Alison Bond, director of The Halo Works Ltd., is the author, with Merlin Stone, of Direct Hit (Financial Times/ Prentice Hall, 1995), The Definitive Guide to Direct and Interactive Marketing (Financial Times/ Prentice Hall, 23) and Consumer Insight (Kogan Page Ltd., 24). She is also visiting fellow at CSEM, a partner of Brunel University.


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