Balance is the Key

Matt Watkinson seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest on LinkedIn recently when he posted…

“No business should be customer-centric.”

He did attempt to clarify his position with a more detailed explanation, but it seemed to have struck a raw nerve in many that probably spent a good part of their lives in the pursuit of Customer Centricity.

Here’s what Matt meant (in his own words)…

The term implies that the customer is at the center — the focal point of decision-making — and by virtue of that fact, other things are orbital or of lesser importance. 

Imagine an F1 team saying they are engine-centric, tyre-centric, driver-centric, or aerodynamics-centric. They’d never win because the real challenge is combining these elements into a single package. Great engine and bad tyres? Back of the grid for you.

I couldn’t agree more.

Sure, there are many who would argue that Matt’s post is clickbaity or that he is being semantic. After all, every organisation prioritises different aspects at different points in time. But, I’ve also seen many organisations just pay lip-service to being customer-centric (or -focused, or -obsessed) without really tackling the problem at the grassroots level. So, maybe, we do need to examine the semantics a bit more closely.

By and large, if you were building products or services in isolation (of customer needs), it would do you a whole lot of good if you focused on your customer, and not on the highest paid person’s opinions (inside your organisation!).

That said, CX (or Customer Centricity) is a tool at your disposal – to be used appropriately, and in relevant situations. It can address specific problems, but is not a cure-all.

There are many, many moving parts to running (and scaling up) a successful enterprise. Employees, Products, Revenues, Costs, Profits – all need to work in harmony to make music. I would submit that a good business leader’s role is to conduct the orchestra in such a way that the result is a great business (not cacophony).

As with most things in Life, balance is the key.

Looking Beyond The Numbers

This post first appeared on the Relatas blog…

If you are in Sales, you probably identify with numbers more than most folks do. If you are any good at what you do, you would most likely know your monthly, quarterly and annual Sales targets. And have a plan in place for achieving those targets. You would know which of your customers are likely to contribute what amount of revenue towards your Sales goals. And, you would know what all this means, in terms of your year-end incentives and bonus payouts.

In fact, those who are not in Sales-based roles, and have faced the receiving end of a subjective appraisal by their managers, have probably envied the objective assessments that Sales folks experience at some point or the other: Do this much, get that much. It all sounds so simple and elegant!

Aiming for and achieving these daily, monthly, annual numbers is probably what keeps you sane. It is no wonder that most Sales people I know take great pride in their target achievements, and have a big part of their identity (dare I say, ‘self worth’?) tied up in the numbers they achieve.

But, is there a Life beyond these numbers?

I’d like to submit three areas for you to reflect on…

  1. Embrace Technology – Enough and more has been written on the plethora of AI- and Technology-based tools that the modern-day Sales agent has at his/her disposal. But most people I know are struggling to keep up, and resist change every chance they get. Keep in touch with new developments out there. Learn how they work to your advantage – don’t resist them. In fact, influence your employer/manager to adopt relevant tools, whenever possible. Technology is now table stakes, but can also provide the edge.
  2. Build a Personal Brand – Create a well-rounded LinkedIn profile that reflects your best attributes and accomplishments. Go through others’ profiles to seek inspiration, if needed. Include a professional photo and a concise summary of your work. Take the time to read relevant industry posts and articles (even if you’re not the ‘book reading’ type), then start sharing selectively. Once you get the hang of it, you can also include observations and commentary on your posts. Only after you have a profile and a news stream worth looking it, reach out to relevant connections and build your network – current clients as well as prospects.
  3. Broaden your Horizons – Don’t spend all your time confined to your product and industry. Find avenues of information that complement traditional sources, and soak it in as much as you can. Attend industry events and conferences (not to merely “sell”, but to learn more). Listen-in on panel discussions that are not directly related to your product. Expand to industry conferences that are peripheral to your industry. Use networking breaks to share your thoughts and discuss relevant problems with others in the industry. Diversity of knowledge broadens perspectives.

Remember that this is just the beginning of the journey, not the destination. While this post has been written for the Sales professional, these attributes are essential to any working professional in this day and age. Master these, and you will surely take your existing skillset to the next level.

May the force be with you.

Building a CX Culture

As a consultant or employee, I’ve contributed to ‘Culture Building’ in dozens of organizations, spanning small startups to large enterprises with more than 10,000 employees. Building a culture is challenging in the best of circumstances. However, it doesn’t have to be harder than necessary.

Most organizations are “Sales” focused. That’s how they survive in the worst of times, and thrive in the best phases of growth. Therefore, when starting on the road to Customer Centricity, it is not a surprise to encounter the argument:

“We are a Sales organization, and have been for the past 10+ years”.

What’s wrong with that observation? Why is Sales focus perceived as being in the way of customer-centric behavior?

Here is what typically happens…

If you have any CX-related metrics in place, a few folks in the central/enterprise team looking at CX seriously will review the available (or newly created) reports that are coming in, seek more info from customer touch-points if needed, identify problems that emerge from the data, design solutions (in their head-office based ivory towers?) and roll them out as new policies/processes for all to follow.

In more evolved teams where the CEO or Business Head is directly engaging with the workforce, and is passionate about CX, a periodic email will often go out from his/her desk stressing upon the important of the “customer” and how this new ‘Customer Focus’ will shape our winning strategy in the months to come.

Even more evolved organizations may institute a “Customer Council” – the official custodian of all things customer. This will be the seat of all the action from where above-mentioned priorities, need-gap analyses and new projects & improved processes will roll out.

Is it any wonder that building a CX culture (or any culture) is an uphill task?!

Yes, having your CEO or Business Head define priorities is important for the team, but who stands guard against too many “top priorities” being rolled out too often?

Yes, customer-centricity is an important ingredient in staying competitive for any business, but why not co-opt the ground forces in building the vision for what it means to be customer-centric? Why not collaborate with them to help identify problems and their solutions? After all, aren’t they the ones that are closest to the customer?

If you are a Sales focused organization, why alienate the team with a new vocabulary? Why not call it “Sales Council” instead of “Customer Council”, and make a genuine attempt to have your Sales leaders understand why Sales and CX are on the same side?

Why should Sales be at loggerheads with CX when an improved customer experience and enhanced customer service leads to increased Sales? Why should any function, for that matter?

Senior folks often assume that functional skills and training programs are meant for the rank and file… that they have little need to learn themselves. But, senior leaders in every function can also learn – from their field force as well as from their customers. Personally, I have always gained significant insights from conversations with customers and those on the front-line that service their needs. They know what’s broken and what works. Really.

Awareness is a two-way street. It is only when we embrace that truth will we begin to understand what’s really needed – both, within and outside the organization. And, only then can we contribute towards shaping the culture of the world we inhabit.

Customer Retention is the new Acquisition

We have been hearing it for years… It takes significantly more effort to acquire a new customer than it does to retain one.

In fact, current estimates suggest that it can cost 5X to 25X more to acquire new customers, as compared to retaining them. Yet, a large majority of organizations are focused on “new business” (as in ‘customer acquisition’), constantly pouring resources into a leaking funnel. But, what they ought to focus on is retaining their customer base and engaging with them in a meaningful manner.

Here are some ways to do just that…

  1. Improve Relevance – Understand your unique “tribe” and get to know them better – their needs and wants, what they want from you. Establish mechanisms to listen to your customers – not just an annual C-SAT survey but on an ongoing basis. Then, work on providing relevant products and services that satisfy those needs and wants.
  2. Build Engagement – Is your customer buying a home loan or a home? Is he/she in the market for a medical insurance policy or for peace of mind? How can we make their journey easier? No, engagement does not equal spending big bucks on media buys, or counting likes on a social post. It takes effort to figure out what really matters to your target audience, and even more effort to give it to them. But the reward is worth it.
  3. Develop Partnerships – Build partnerships with distributors, channel partners and even other service providers. The world is one large ecosystem, if you’re willing to see it that way. If you are a ride-hailing app (Uber?) your scope of service doesn’t just include matching a driver with a passenger. Wouldn’t it be far more delightful if your regular customers popped inside the vehicle and had the option to play their favorite playlist (Spotify?). Partnerships are a great way to extend your base offering in ways that are meaningful to your audience. Again, relevance is key.
  4. Build Category before Brand – I can’t recall the number of times I have encountered organizations getting this wrong. Even in a category that is nascent, every brand rushes to build their own brand presence, instead of first building the category. Handhold your customers to help them understand what’s involved. Avoid jargon. Think from their point of view. Test your theories. Validate all assumptions. Simplify. Then, simplify some more. Now you’re on the right track.

The 5 Ps of CX

“Customer Experience” (CX) is quite the buzzword, these days. In corporate meeting rooms, and on industry panels – every one seems to be talking about it. However, many of the folks I meet grapple with how to prioritize their efforts around improving customer engagement.

Over decades of helping clients and employers bridge the gap between Business and what their Customers really need, I have come to understand that there are 5 Ps that impact CX. These are the levers at your disposal. These are the elements you need to influence, so you can strike the right balance…

  1. Product (or Service)
  2. Platform (or System)
  3. Processes
  4. People
  5. Pricing

Product/Service – Define your Target Audience clearly. Don’t build your product or service around what you think they need. Find out what they seek from you, then build your offering around their real needs. No more, no less. Competition does not matter. Customers do.

Platform/System – We are surrounded by Technology, and it’s here to stay. Your customers are probably embracing it faster than you are able to keep up with it. Don’t resist: Embrace it without excuses. Invest in what matters to your customers, be it Mobile or AI. Invest in creating a friction-less User Experience (UX). Good Design matters.

Processes – Customer Experience is built on a foundation of consistent delivery (of promises made), not found in pockets of excellence. Processes, therefore, form the backbone of a good CX. Stay away from ad-hoc and discretionary management. Strive to build an organization that outlives you and your key managers. Process Excellence is the key.

People – In any enterprise, people are an essential factor of success. Research shows that happy employees drive a 2x improvement in CX. Employee engagement matters. Hire right, then provide them with a clear vision of your business goals. Once they have understood what is needed of them, empower them to take actions that help them meet customer needs.

Pricing – Customer expectations change as the price changes. We expect much more from products and services that are sold at a premium. So if you plan to charge a premium for your brand, make sure you justify the outcome. In every case, think hard about the relationship between Price (you charge) and Value (you provide). Every Moment of Truth matters.

These 5 Ps are how you can ultimately impact the outcomes your customers experience. Of course, you can ignore this list if all you want to do is pay lip-service to the cause.

P.S. If you look closely, you will find that this doesn’t just apply to CX – these are also the attributes that can help you build a robust enterprise – one that outlives you.