Customers are both the reason for being in business and the biggest part of the external environment that your organization lives in, so customers are rightfully a huge part of your organizational strategy. To succeed then, you must understand your customer focus and its relationship to managing your company for peak performance. In other words, what does your strategy tell your people about your customers care?
In the context of your external environment, there are three parts of any strategy decision you make. First of all, what is your purpose? Where do you see your firm on a continuum between Customer Acquisition and Customer Retention? As with our earlier discussion of Profit Growth vs. Growth of Market Share, you are probably inclined to say yes to both. We all would like to keep getting new customers and have them stay with us after we have found each other. And you can choose to be midway between these points on your own continuum. Most likely however, you’re tilted at least a little toward one or the other of these choices. To repeat what I have said all along, there is no Right Choice, only what is right for you and your organization. The important thing is to know what is right for your organization and to be sure that your processes, procedures, training, and expressed expectations are all pointing in the direction you want.
If your people think finding new customers is more important than keeping the ones you have, they may take a wrong action, such as scheduling a rush order to impress the new customer at the expense of an order scheduled for your biggest or best existing customer, causing them to rethink just how important they are to you. In an ideal world, we’ll take care of every customer every time, with no trade-offs, but with our limited time and resources, we often have to make choices. You must be sure your people know how to make these choices in alignment with your stated strategy in order achieve the peak performance you are driving for.
Secondly, review your daily processes. Are they highly customer focused or are they operations focused? For instance, Walmart has a return policy that says “Just bring it back for a refund” which is great for customers but must surely be a headache for those with responsibility for disposing of the returned inventory. While this is an extreme example, think about your own policy on returned goods. Does the policy you have in place help your customer or help you Receiving, QA, and Inventory Control people? How does this align with your stated strategic goals for customer service?
The third intersection of strategy and customer care is your overall attitude toward satisfying customers. Do you actively anticipate your customers’ needs or do you react to these needs after they are expressed? Again, no correct answer, but your organization is currently running somewhere between these two opposites and you need to know two things: where do you want to be and where do your people think they are.
There is an important component of your People Development strategy related to this discussion, and that is: where is your Learning Focus? The best organizations are learning organizations, those making a conscious effort to increase the skills, knowledge, and abilities of their people. Are you customer focused or internally, operationally focused in your training and development efforts?
What specifically do you tell your people about dealing with customers? Do they know where to go to quickly get answers to customers’ inquiries? Are they trained in the way to communicate with customers? Do they know what you want them to do in any given situation?
My only goal with the above discussion is to get you to think about the specifics of your organization’s relationships with your customers. I offer only a way to think about articulating your strategy and conveying it to everyone in your entire company. If you know the answers and all of your people know your answers, you have a taken a huge step in aligning your whole firm with your strategic drivers, one that will pay off on your bottom line.