Reconnecting with Customers
“Three thankless realities define the state of competition in industries from automobiles to airlines, movies to mutual funds: oversupply, overcapacity, and utter sensory overload. Companies are selling too much of everything; they have the wherewithal to make more of what they’re already selling too much of; and they are unleashing too many marketing messages on customers who can’t begin to process all that they’re seeing and hearing.”
What this tells me is that businesses have lost focus. Not just a loss of focus on the customer, but also a loss of focus on what their business is.
Recently, I spoke with a fellow who had just left his corporate sales job to start his own business. One of the reasons he gave was that the business had broaden its marketing scope so wide that it was impossible to continue to service their customers well. It was no longer about servicing their customers, but about selling more and more people more and more products and services.
Every day I am acquainted with businesses that understand what Taylor and LaBarre describe, and many more that don’t. Why is it that some businesses get it and others don’t? It seems common sense.
I think it goes to a notion that has grown over the past century that business is a scientific enterprise consisting of technical tasks. As a result, my job is to faithfully and efficiently complete those tasks everyday.
The shift that Taylor and LaBarre note, as have many other business writers, is the one to a customer-centric business model. It really is about how relationships form. In this instance, it is between a company and a customer. It is more than an economic exchange, a transaction. Rather it is an experience that envelops the customer in a world that touches their lives.
Taylor and LaBarre offer five principles to consider in reconnecting with customers.
1. There’s always a demand for something distinctive.
How are you distinguishing yourself and your business from your competitors?
How is your business different than it was a decade ago? How do you describe that to people?
2. Not all customers are created equal.
Who is your ideal customer? Who fits your product or service better than anyone else? What can you do to create a stronger bond of experience with them?
3. Brand is culture, culture is brand.
Do you know what your business’s customer experience culture is like? What do your customers experience when they interact with you and your employees?
4. Advertising to customers is not the same as connecting with customers.
How dependent are you on advertising to make each month’s cash flow projections? What does your advertising say about the experience that your customers have with you?
5.When it comes to creating brand value, dollars-and-cents thinking doesn’t always make sense.
How much do you invest in the experience your customers have with you? When they call, do they talk to a real person or an answering machine?
Just as innovation has become an open-source collaborative enterprise, so too, the connection to customers has become a much more open experience of interaction and relationship formation with customers.
Here again it requires leaders to reconsider how they lead. To create a personal experience requires leaders to be a real human being with the customer.
How do you become a real human being? Sounds silly dosn't it. Well, it is more than breathing in and breathing out. It is more than showing up every day.
First of all become absolutely clear that you can't be the answer person for every question.
This means that you firmly grasp in your mind the need for humility. This doesn't mean you don't have confidence, and you aren't courageous in your performance as a leader. It means that you don't enter every situation with a preconceived notion that your way has to win, and that you already have the answer that you have to force down everyone's throats.
Second, push as many decisions as far down the organizational chart as possible. What's the impact? Three changes. One is that many problems will begin to get resolved by the people who understand the problem best, the people responsible. Two is an environment of team work that elevates people's satisfaction of work. Three, and this has to be intentional, a higher quality of communication that releases you the leader from the fear and doubt of not knowing what they are doing down there.
Three, change the ideas that you use to understand who you need to be as a leader and a person. This begins with ideas about human nature in the context of business. Let me suggest three by author and philosopher, Tom Morris - True Success, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, and his latest, If Harry Potter Ran General Electric. Read through these books, and you'll develop a fresh and inspiring persective on what it means to be a leader and a human being.
Lastly, incorporate these changes, using The Circle of Impact, of Ideas and Relationships into the Organizational Structure and operational practices of your business. This is true of all the ideas that you pick up in reading Taylor and LaBarre's book.
An Idea that does not lead to action is eventually lost. Relationships that lack core values and ideas lose their purpose. Organizational structures without purpose or healthy relationships, decline. Therefore, whatever idea you recognize as valuable, whether from Mavericks at Work or any of Tom Morris' work, you have to incorporate them into your relationships with other people and into the structure of your organization.
The principal problem is that virtually no one has every been trained to do this. So, if you need help just ask.
Read the book. Put the ideas in action. Don't wait for a convenient time. Just do it and do it with your people.