Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Customer Satisfaction – The Driving Ethos for Success

This post is part of a series under the title “Developing People: Succeeding in Business in the Years Ahead”. For some brief background, the series is about the intense and ever-growing competition that is today’s global marketplace and how there are a number of critical, but difficult-to-quantify, characteristics that will differentiate the best business professionals from the rest. Over the course of the series, each of these characteristics will be further explored individually. The first of these characteristics is the topic of this post, Customer Satisfaction.

You may be thinking - what hasn’t already been written about customer satisfaction?! We’ve heard it all, right? Books, methodologies (“the customer-centric organization”), and easy-to-remember sayings (“the customer is always right”) have been coming at us for years…..can someone have an insightful or new twist on this seemingly obvious concept? In my attempts to provide such, there are two fundamental points introduced in this post: (1) Make customer satisfaction your personal driving ethos and (2) Immerse yourself in your customers’ business.

(1) Driving Ethos…. Whether your company is a product / thought leader (e.g. Apple), a lowest cost / value provider (e.g. WalMart), or is intimately focused around a particular industry or customer segment (e.g. Booz Allen), all of these traditional business models can benefit tremendously from having their workers put the customer at the center of its every move. When the driving ethos of a company and its people is its customer base, all of the typical business decisions and inherent long/short term conflicts become a little easier to reconcile. If you lead your competition, it will increase the chances of maintaining or extending that position. If you trail the competition, it is the single best way to catch and surpass them. And from a personal differentiation perspective, it gives you, the worker, a genuine opportunity to stand out in a crowded, highly qualified, often look-a-like marketplace of resources – by understanding your customer’s needs a little better than the next person.

(2) Immersion…. While saying that customer satisfaction is one’s driving ethos, doing it is another story. Immersion is not only a concept; it is also a technique. In its simplest form, it is about spending physical time with customers and really understanding them…..“walk a mile in your customers’ shoes”. It enables you to respond intelligently to many questions: What does your customer value? What are their major barriers to obtaining what they value? Why are those barriers in the way? How well do your offerings break through those barriers? What is the value your customer brings to their customers? How do they deliver that value? How do they market themselves? How is their business changing? What are they saying behind closed doors when making their wish list of things they want right now? Or down the road? Why are you, or your competitors, failing to provide these things? Are these needs something that your company can provide now? Or in the future? How do you better present your organization’s offerings? Too many folks in your own company likely don’t ask these questions or have enough information to answer them. Being able to answer, or at least take a position on, some or all of these questions will make you invaluable to your company….whether you are a senior exec, mid-level manager, junior employee, or anywhere on that spectrum. There are many ways to immerse, and we will explore them in greater detail in future posts. But the one simple way to do it is to spend time at your customer’s place of business with customers - before, during, and/or after the work day. Seems to me this doesn’t happen nearly enough in today’s digitally connected but physically remote business world to enable real understanding of your most important asset – your customers.

Customer satisfaction is tightly integrated with many of the other differentiating factors that will be further explored as part of this series of posts on “Developing People…”. Stay tuned. This won’t be the last you hear of positioning customer satisfaction as your driving ethos or the concept of immersion.