Last week I wrote about how much I was looking forward to our annual User Forum. My enthusiastic anticipation was not in vain. We had a great meeting and continued our tradition of advancing the thinking and practice of how to make companies more customer-focused. The event confirmed for me that when you bring the leading thinkers together to tackle common problems, the sum is greater than the parts and great progress can be made. As customer advocates, we need to support and learn from each other. Below are three reflections I had from the time I spent last week:
1. Reinforcement of the concept of “customer-focus” as a journey. I have written about this topic many times but we just have to learn how to enjoy the ride because customer focus is not a destination. While all of the companies in attendance expressed current frustrations, all of them also acknowledged that progress and improvement had been achieved over the past. It is very apparent with the companies that are in the more mature phases of their efforts, are operating at a different level than those that are just starting the journey. The job of making your company customer-focused is never really done, but it is meaningful and valuable. Besides the alternative (being less customer-focused) is not an option.
2. No more excuses for not taking action. For the past five years, we have been asking our clients what their biggest challenges are. Within the past two years or so, we started asking other companies (“our future clients”) as part of our prospecting and business development activities. At the top of both lists has consistently been the challenge of “getting the organization to take action on customer feedback and improve the business.” At this forum, we presented a framework of the six critical foundations of taking action. More about the framework some other time. The general consensus was that the problem of failing to take action is not a matter of knowing what to do—we do! Rather, the issue is how disciplined and resolute are we, as advocates, to make the right kind of action happen. From now on, we at Walker, are instituting a zero-tolerance policy on excuses for not making customer-focuses action happen at your company. We know what to do and we know how to do it! Bring on your challenges.
3. We need access to the business operators to make it happen faster. One of the consistent findings is that success at taking action is greatly accelerated when a business leader—not a customer advocate but a business unit, line or department manager—starts embracing our knowledge as a tool to help them accomplish their business objectives. We cannot continue to guess what information they might like or worse yet, blast them with reams of data and ask them to sift through it to find what they need. This is not that hard to do. We need to sit down with them, discuss their business issues, and how insights about the customer might impact these issues. Based on these discussions, we commit to come back with some customer insights that might help solve the business issue. As we present our information against the business issue, the business leader will give us more insight and the process repeats. This continuing and iterative dialogue eventually creates a business champion that is using the information in a fashion that doesn’t make it seem like something extra to do. In return, we get an ally in our quest to improve our customer focus. I’ve seen this work dozens of times over the past few years. Don’t think it work in your environment, try us.
It really is a great experience to immerse one’s self with smart, well-intentioned and like-minded people to advance your understanding and knowledge. It is also always good to keep your perspective on any journey, and especially the customer-focused one. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but look at how far we have come and how much we have learned.
Originally posted in Customer Connection April 28, 2009.