Even if your team doesn’t directly serve customers (think customer service and sales), you should still adopt a customer-first attitude. More important, however, is that you should remove the obstacles that allow your employees to truly serve your customers, says customer strategist and executive coach Robin Lawton, author of Mastering Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning, Strategy, Culture, Customer Experience & Measures of Success.
Policies or procedures often prohibit employees from providing their best service. In other cases, if they’re left to decide, sometimes on the spot, if it’s OK to go against guidelines to satisfy the person in front of them, they won’t out of fear of disciplinary action. “Take that decision-making into the real world, with stressful deadlines, cranky consumers and other frustrations, and there’s no telling which way it could go,” Lawton says.
It’s up to you to set the standard for excellence with an unambiguous customer-first goal, Lawton says. He offers these tips:
- Know what your customers want. Ask a dozen people what they want from their grocery store, their cable provider or their airline, and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers. And those answers often are counter to what the business thinks should take precedence. “No matter what bias the organization has, the customers’ priorities are what counts,” Lawton says.
- Don’t overlook the needs of the casual consumer. Businesses often focus on pleasing the people they think are their most valuable customers – those with power that comes from their position, personality, purse strings or proximity, Lawton says. “These four ‘power p’s’ can inadvertently lead us to satisfy the wrong customers,” he says.
- Don’t rely on a new slogan or updated mission statement. It only goes so far. When management identifies issues like quality, leadership, productivity and competitiveness, training often is used to initiate the change. The problem is that only a fraction of employees who are trained actually use what learn. “There seems to be an assumption that providing people with hammers and saws will enable them to build a house,” Lawton says. “Without changed thinking, clear purpose and sufficient support, we cannot expect knowledge or tools to create desired outcomes.”
There’s both an art and a science to creating a customer-centered culture, Lawton says. “Of course, the customer isn’t always right,” he says. “But if you treat them well, in the end they won’t care about that. They’ll only care that they were heard and satisfied.”
Robin L. Lawton is an author, customer strategist, motivational speaker, consultant and executive coach. He coined the term “customer-centered culture,” and his “C3” methodology has enabled numerous organizations to achieve significant growth. He is a popular speaker at management conferences, and his work has been referenced by authors and experts in areas such as business excellence, leadership, customer experience and innovation. Lawton is the author of Mastering Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning Strategy, Culture, Customer Experience & Measures of Success and Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality Innovation, and Speed.
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