Message to CEOs: Focus On Your Customers

The Purpose of Business Is To Attract and Keep Good Customers

Here is a scary thought for a Monday morning: many CEOs have lost sight of the importance of customers.

Oh sure, they do know that customers are the folks buying their products and that such sales are important. However, with a focus on quarterly sales and profit figures, head counts, share prices, mergers, cost structures, and other financial ratios, too many corporate leaders have lost the customer insights required to develop and maintain market leadership.

My long-held suspicions on this were confirmed in an article in Inside 1 to 1, the publication started by the Peppers & Rogers Group. Appropriately titled “Dear CEO: Don’t Leave Customers in the Dust,” the authors Don Peppers and Martha Rogers write that they are “amazed at the number of CEOs who give interviews on how to grow their companies, or even more fascinating, the CEOs who tell the media how they are going to save their failing companies, and yet make no reference to customers whatsoever.”

The authors tracked one month of interviews on business news channel CNBC and reported that “23 CEOs discussed their companies’ strategies and only six used the word customer” in their responses.

The authors also cite a Deloitte survey of 50 technology CEOs, which found that only six percent said building customer loyalty is their biggest challenge to sustaining growth. This was well behind other “more important” issues such as bringing new products to market (27%), hiring salespeople (18%), and developing strategic relationships (15%).

I have noticed this trend for several years in my own reading of business publications. Senior executives are more willing to talk about how they are cutting costs than about the steps their organizations are taking to better understand the changing needs, wants, and desires of customers.

Rare is the executive who claims “we are going to be successful and grow our business because we are listening to our customers and aligning our future products and services with their future needs.”

Fortunately, such executives are only rare, not yet extinct.

It is sad to watch stellar organizations go through cycles of poor leadership, wrongly placed focus, and lack of direction simply because senior management decides to take the corporate eyes off customer needs.

This happened to one industry-leading MNC in Southeast Asia, when several changes in management led to cost cuttings, reduction in staffing, and automation replacing humans at key points of interaction with customers. This company was previously the benchmark for customer service in its industry. Today, customers constantly comment that “they used to be the best, but now they are the same as everyone else.”

Not surprisingly, this company has also seen massive staff turnover within its middle management ranks, something that was unheard of only a few years ago.

As the legendary Peter Drucker wrote, “the purpose of business is to attract and keep customers.”

This phrase should be posted on the walls nearest every CEO desk.

And next to it should be a poster saying “My primary role as CEO is to ensure we build loyalty with our customers and our employees.”

Customers. Employees. Operations. This is what CEOs should focus on, and in the same order as the letters in their titles.

The ones who do this are the ones who will build sustainable and profitable businesses over the long haul.

KEY POINT:  senior management should focus on customers first, employees second, and operations third.

TAKING ACTION:  review your last dozen public or internal pronouncements on your organization’s business strategy. How many of these include comments and directions on customers and customer needs? What priority is given, if any, to customers and customer needs?

Ask yourself, how much time per month do you spend in internal meetings? How much time do you spend attending to operational or financial issues? Then calculate how much time you have remaining for meeting customers and coaching employees. If you are not happy with the results from these calculations, what steps do you need to make immediately to give higher priority to customers and employees?

Go out and meet with customers. Conduct account reviews with your large and high potential customers. Gain insights into their current and future needs. Ask them questions about their business and where their industry is headed. Ask them how they view their relationships with your organization.

Bring together your leadership team for a full-day discussion on customers and customer needs. Enforce this rule: no discussions on sales forecasts, profit projections, cost structures, or internal constraints. Simply discuss your customers’ current and future needs. Then discuss how you can profitably provide solutions to these needs.

 

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.

20 Service Excellence Leadership Practices

Inherent in Organizations that Consistently Provide Excellent Customer Service is the Notion of Service Statesmanship

Customer service ─ and service quality ─ are critical managerial topics in business today for many reasons:

  • Service quality has strategic importance in the long-term success of the business.
  • Excellent customer service is a critical means by which an organization can differentiate itself from competition.
  • Everyone in the organization needs to focus on providing good service (not just front-line staff) ─ from senior managers to customer contact personnel.

As we wrote in the previous Monday Morning Marketing Memo, inherent in organizations that consistently provide excellent customer service is the very notion of Service Statesmanship. The two key aspects of service statesmanship are:

  • A Service Statesman is a role model, constantly reinforcing the organization’s key service messages and service values.
  • A Service Statesman is seen by staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery.

Here are 20 Service Excellence Leadership Practices that any leader, from a department or business unit manager to the CEO, can and should perform in their role as Service Statesmen:

  1. You provide a clear, written statement to employees explaining what you mean by excellent service and how you will create it for your customers.
  2. You make certain that employees can explain their specific role in delivering excellent customer service.
  3. You make certain that employees know the day-to-day things they can do to deliver excellent customer service.
  4. You communicate to employees on a regular basis about the importance of providing excellent service to customers.
  5. You ask employees how customer service quality can be improved.
  6. You have your managers set personal examples of good service to customers.
  7. You set standards for response time to customer complaints or questions.
  8. You track the success of your efforts to improve service quality.
  9. You share customers’ evaluations of your service quality with all your employees, colleagues, and peers.
  10. You reward employees who take a personal interest in resolving customer complaints and problems.
  11. You recognize employees who provide superior service to customers.
  12. You make it clear that delivering excellent service is important in career advancement decisions.
  13. You keep employees up-to-date on customer expectations.
  14. You encourage employees to go “above and beyond” regular job descriptions for the customer.
  15. You encourage managers to work one-on-one with employees to meet service quality standards.
  16. You train customer contact employees to deal with angry customers.
  17. You provide employees with sufficient training on the company’s products and services.
  18. Your policies and procedures are designed to help deliver excellent service.
  19. You define procedures for what to do when mistakes are made or errors are discovered.
  20. You make it easy for customers to reach the right person or business unit when they have problems or questions.

Like most things in business, you have two choices when it comes to being a Service Statesman. You can either talk about it, or you can lead by example via the above 20 practices.

The “talk only” approach, or what might be called the NATO (No Action, Talk Only) approach, is unlikely to produce the desired results.

I always admire the restaurant managers at McDonald’s, whom you frequently see with mop and bucket in hand cleaning up after a spill or when customers leave a messy table behind. You know McDonald’s is serious about cleanliness when you see the restaurant managers actually doing the cleaning.

The same goes for your business. Customers know exactly how serious your organization is about customer service by observing how your managers act and perform. Likewise, so do your staff.

You can reinforce your dedication and your message about excellent service delivery, to both employees and customers, by putting into practice the 20 managerial habits we have given you this week.

KEY POINT:  inherent in organizations that consistently provide excellent customer service is the notion of service statesmanship.

TAKING ACTION:  select four of the 20 service excellent leadership practices found in this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo that you would like to start using in your job. For each practice selected, list 3-4 things that you could start doing this week to implement these practices.

Review your policies and procedures. Which ones enable your staff to consistently deliver quality customer service? Which ones hinder them in their pursuit of delivering excellent customer service consistently? How can the latter ones be amended and changed?

Are you seen by your staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery? What personal steps can you do to improve in this area?

Review your agenda for your last staff meeting. What percentage of the meeting was planned for customer service discussions? For your next 4-5 staff meetings, make sure that customer service is the dominant item on each agenda. Then your staff will know how serious you truly are about this topic.

This post is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.