Strategic Customer Management – The Requirements for Achieving Customer Focus
Well here goes my first blog on the topic of Strategic Customer Management – and wait, hold it! If you are thinking all has been said that can be said on this topic, you are in for a surprise, guaranteed (and IF NOT, I want to hear from you – in fact I’d like to hear from you either way – to have you share your thoughts with me and others). This topic has been a particular area of focus for me for 39 years. Hopefully I have learned something – gained some wisdom which can be useful to you. I have been referred to as a “thought leader” in Europe on this topic. I am not quite sure what that is, but possibly it is one step above an “expert”. Although I am reminded that an “expert” is anyone more than 50 kilometers from home and carrying a briefcase!
What is wisdom you may ask and how do you get it? Let me just say that a barrel of crude oil has value, right? Certainly it has an economic value around $100 today. But if someone gave you a barrel of crude oil, what could you do with it? Unless you put it through a refinery process – a distillation or cracking process to produce 98 Octane petrol to power your car, it is not very useful. So it is with knowledge. Unless it is applied and the experience gained from that application is reflected upon, one does not really gain wisdom. Wisdom is like 98 Octane petrol.
Well, let’s jump right in and as the British are fond of saying, “muck about”. Over the years I have heard and I have seen many organisations proclaim that they were “customer focused”. I’ve seen organisations such as Digital Equipment Corporation in Boston (no longer in existence) and British Airways gain customer focus – take to a best practice level and then throw it all away. I see organisations literally leaving millions of dollars, pounds sterling, Euros on the table in their dealings with customers because they are committing the 7 Deadly Sins of Customer Management (to be discussed at in a later blog if there is some interest).
Thoughts on Customer Focus:
Bottom-line? When I ask senior executives around the globe “What are the requirements for being a customer focused organisation?”, they are at a loss to tell me. But customer focus is just common sense, right? This is what I am told everywhere I go. So why isn’t it the reality? Because things get in the way. What things? Things that focus on short-term financial results mostly, but not exclusively. What I am going to discuss with you now are the requirements – whether you are a 50-100 person SME or a global organisation or government Ministry, healthcare organisation, university, police department or NGO such as The Red Cross, these requirements below apply to you!!
I have had the opportunity of working with the Malcolm Baldrige performance Excellence Award and EFQM Business Excellence Award frameworks since 1987 when I was one of 40 “experts” (oh no that word!) who were invited to Washington D.C. to review and comment on the first draft of the Baldrige criteria. I have been an examiner, senior examiner, judge, writer of case studies, trainer of examiners and led criteria improvement efforts annually for years. What I have done is to integrate the requirements for being a customer focused organisation with the EFQM (or Baldrige if you would like) criteria. I will begin with a short list of 5 core practices which leadership MUST engage in to ensure their organisation is customer focused. The total list is 10. In following blogs, I will explore the remaining four leadership practices and then move through all the categories of the award – people, process, measurement and so on, always keeping the focus on the customer. See how you measure up. The Diagnostic Survey for determining the degree of your organisation’s customer focus is available on my website, www.wisdomforstrategicthinking.com
Here are the Leadership Practices:
- Management at all levels regularly meets with customers to listen and learn about their changing requirements, discuss performance issues and to strengthen their relationship with the customer’s organisation
- What is regularly? In my opinion it is at least quarterly and perhaps monthly. It means that some of your middle and senior managers are meeting with their counterparts (alignment! More on this in another blog and why it is so critical to business success for your organisation) on a regular basis exchanging information, knowledge, ideas of value to both parties – a “win-win” engagement of the customer’s key decision-makers, key decision influencers or key users/user groups as appropriate. The key word here is “value” – making certain that you are not wasting the customer’s time, but sharing insights, understandings, solutions that will help make them, your customer, more successful (speaking in a business-to-business context, consumer markets in another blog)
More to come in the next Blog Post where we will begin with (b) and see where we go from there!
Dr. Ted Marra