The Fortress and the Flower Shop


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Tomorrow’s challenge

If you read the demographic forecasts on the European marketplace it is clear that finding competent employees will become much more difficult in the years to come. On top of that, finding and retaining profitable customers has never been so challenging. The winners of tomorrow are those companies that succeed in finding and building a competent workforce that delivers maximum customer engagement. To me, it seems that we need to start putting a lot of extra effort in this area to maintain a competitive position in our global economy.

Larger companies lose touch

Howcome so much fastgrowing and larger organisations tend to lose touch with both their customers and their employees? What makes it so difficult to create the kind of engagement that is so characteristic for a small flower shop? Is it technically impossible to have high levels of customer and employee engagement in a larger organisation? Or do we just lose focus along the path of growth? Why do so many companies turn into a fortress?

Desire for small

The past few years I have been talking to customers, employees, executives and business owners, all related to larger companies. I have found that many of them have a strong desire towards smaller organisations. Many of us have strong positive associations with smaller companies. Customers believe they are served better and more personal. Employees feel better informed and more comfortable. And even some executives and business owners long for the smaller company in which they felt better in control.

Human scale

In his book ‘Small Giants …’ the author Bo Burlingham drops the concept of ‘human scale’. I have not found a clear definition yet but I believe the concept to be a scale that we (as customers and employees) perceive as comfortable and pleasant. When observing growing companies it seems that they pass certain boundaries that take away some of the company characteristics of the previous growth phase. Or to put it more straightforward: companies tend to lose some positive aspects along the way.

Engagement is a result of choice, not size

While some believe it impossible to develop highly engaged relationships within a larger company, I have come to believe that developing high levels of engagement with both employees and customers is a result of choice, not of size. If a larger organisation decides to excel in engagement and follows through with the right execution, it is able to deliver the intimacy of a small flower shop. It might require some extra effort, but it is possible, without any doubt.

Combining the strengths of large with the charms of small

Is it possible to design your (larger) company to ‘own’ both the strengths commonly associated with large AND the charms associated with small? Wow! Just think about the potential for a large company for a few minutes. What would happen if a corporation would be able to provide the intimacy of a small flower shop … ? What financial impact would that company enjoy if it was able to substantially raise both employee and customer engagment and loyalty?

The forest of engagement

I expect more and more customer and employees to turn towards organisations that provide enough value to develop some kind of engagement. We will turn to companies that are attractive enough for us to walk towards them. I call this the forest of engagement. We have lots of options to walk through the forest, any which way. But if there is a company in the distance that is worthwhile to walk towards, I will stay on his path. And even when lots of alternative and competing companies are fighting for my attention left and right of my paht, if this specific company provides a unique and meaningfull experience I will stay on his path.

Growing bigger by acting smaller

I have been working on an approach to design a larger organisation to act as a small one. The purpose of this concept is to help larger organisations to develop the attractiveness, engagement and loyalty normally associated with a smaller company. I have named this concept `The 50 Customer Company´, because the companies that adopt this strategy deliver the highly intimate experience of a company that serves no more than 50 customers. To make myself clear: I am not advising larger companies to downsize their customer base, I am suggesting they deliver the ´second to none engagement´one can experience in dealing with a smaller company.

4 Key design principles

Any company can improve its attractiveness by adopting four simple design principles:

1.Develop a clear customer promise. Develop a very clear understanding of who you want to serve (and employ) and what kind of experience you promise them. Make sure it contains the levels of intimacy of the small flower shop.

2.Develop a 360 degree customer view. Make sure you know everything there is to know of the companies you are dealing with and all the contacts involved.

3.Improve every touchpoint. Review all your customer touchpoints and processes to consistently deliver the experience you promise.

4.Never stop improving. Use every opportunity you have to collect feedback on your performance.

Robbert Bouman
Escendo B.V.
Robbert Bouman is the founder, executive officer and lead consultant for Escendo. This company helps fastgrowing and larger companies in The Netherlands to unleash their potential. We help our customers to design and deliver upon their customer and employee promise. We help improve their customer and employee experience.


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