Customer focus is a term both overused and underdone. It sounds good in a mission or vision statement but many leaders don’t really know how to achieve a customer focused culture nor are they doing anything specific about improving it in a sustainable way. Many other leaders may know how to do it, but feel it may not be worth the effort and time required to achieve it.
There are many reasons the leadership of companies talk about it. They believe their customers and employees want to hear the “customer first” story. It sends the right message. Most leaders believe, at some level, focus on the customer is an important part of running a successful business. They understand that without customers there is no business.
So why do leaders of companies talk the talk but do not walk (or run) the walk?
The reality of being truly customer focused – that is, having a customer culture – is somewhat different. It is challenging, particularly when companies have developed habits and structures that work against it.
Internal focus on operations, processes and working in silos create habits that can be hard to change. As companies grow they become more complex, communication becomes difficult and frequently confusing, processes are set-up to maintain quality and improve efficiency and eventually get in the way of doing the right thing for customers. Silos develop and internal politics result in people acting in their own best interests above the customer and the business. These conditions lead to at least 5 reasons why customers don’t believe you.
1. Misdirected compensation
Sometimes people are compensated in ways that work against the best interests of customers. There is no better example of this than the mortgage crisis in the US where mortgage salespeople were incented to sell mortgages to people that could not afford them. This leads to customers not having their real needs met.
2. Short-term focused behavior
Another reason for the lack of customer culture is the short-term behavior driven by an investor focus and reporting of quarterly results. This leads to a focus on profit and revenue to the detriment of customers. An underlying customer culture providing a sustainable business focus will lead to more integrated thinking and reporting based on medium term performance trends.
3. Focus on technical skills
Many of today’s professionals are specialists with highly developed technical skills in their areas of expertise. This leads to a narrow focus without a broader understanding of the business environment and how they affect the value received by customers. Some professions even view customers as inhibitors to getting their jobs done – an annoyance to minimize. For example the university academic that laments the fact that they have to teach students rather than focus 100% on research or the surgeon that dislikes having to communicate in person with patients. Others focus on profit to the exclusion of customer interests. When this attitude takes hold in organizations it becomes a significant roadblock to a customer culture regardless of what the mission states.
4. Operating in silos
Functional silos where there is lack of cross-function collaboration and unclear customer “ownership” creates problems for customers. We have all experienced being sent from one department to another by customer service representatives who are not empowered to take ownership of our problem. This leads to customer frustration and then your customer promise lacks credibility.
5. Lack of strategic alignment
When staff do not understand or care about the company’s strategy and how what they do contributes to delivering value to customers. This leads to the customer receiving mixed service and conflicting messages.
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