How Well Are You Positioned to Make The Shift to Being a “Customer Company”? Answer these 10 Questions to Find Out

It takes something to run a marathon.  It takes something to orient your organisation around the customer.  It takes something to be a “Customer Company”.  And it takes a lot more than technology or changing some processes here an there.

What does it takes to be a “Customer Company”?  It takes passion.  It takes steadfast commitment. This passion and commitment has to reside in the hearts of your senior management (“Tops”). And this passion and commitment has to be visible and experienced throughout your organisation.

Why does it take this level of passion and commitment from your Tops?  Because an authentic shift toward customer-centricity requires changes at multiple levels: priorities, policies, practices, processes, people, and platforms. This kind and scale of change only occurs when there is genuine passion, commitment and leadership from the people at the very top of your organisation.

How can you work out if the Tops in your organisation have this kind of passion and commitment to creating a “Customer Company”?  There are dreams. There are intentions. There are fine sounding words. And then there is how people show up in the world: their being and their doing. Which is my way of saying that you should pay attention to how people show up in the world, not what they say.  With that in mind, I propose that you ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do the Tops know how many customers we have gained over the last month, how many we have lost, and the impact on our business?

2. How much time and effort did the Tops expend last month serving our existing customers – in the stores, in the call-centres etc?

3. What actions have the Tops taken, over the last month, to walk in the shoes of our customers? Have they bought one of our products? Have they attempted to assemble-use our product? Have they called customer services to return a product? Have they read our marketing literature etc?

4. When was the last time the Tops called our customers to thank them and learn what enticed them to choose us over our competitors?

5. When was the last time the Tops rang up customers who have chosen to stop doing business with us to find out what caused them to leave us?  And what it will take to win them back?

6. When was the last time that the Tops met with a cross-section of our frontline people, individually and/or collectively, to get access to their experience and their thoughts on what is and is not working for them, for our customers? Is this type of meeting a regular event or a one-off?

7. Have the Tops ever been undercover to experience the reality of being on the frontline?

8. Do the Tops know how many of our frontline employees have left us, why, and the impact of this turnover on our customers, and our business?

9. How much time do the Tops devote per week, per month, per quarter on discussing what they have learned/experienced by talking with our customers, and our frontline employees?

10. What changes are the Tops making in terms of priorities, policies, practices, processes, people and platforms?

Posted on May 23, 2013, in Culture, Customer Experience, Customer Philosophy, Employee Engagement, Leadership / Change / Transformation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Nice list of questions for Top’s and non-Top’s but hoping to be one day, Maz. I would have loved to have seen some answers or suggestions on the best way to answer them too.
    Thanks again for another of your “must read” posts.
    PS I love your new photo ;-)

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    • Hello Denyse

      I thank you for your contribution. And I am delighted that this post shows up for you as a “must read” post.

      As for answer or suggestions to the questions, is it possible that the answers are implied in the questions? How can you lead a “Customer Company” and not do what I am suggesting that Tops do? For example, how about having a weekly get together with a cross-section of employees where everything is on the table to be discussed. And the role of the Tops is to simply listen, explore and understand where their frontline is coming from.

      Finally, I am not in favour of giving out universal prescriptions. They don’t work. Life is paradoxical. The hallmark of intelligence, according to me, is the ability to generate the appropriate response to a given situation leaving aside all prescriptions. Yes, it is great to love thy neighbour. And if you suspect he is holding young girls captive in the basement then it is appropriate to call the police.

      I wish you the very best,
      maz

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  2. Hi Maz,
    I really like the list of questions however I am uneasy about only aiming them at the “Tops” as you call them.

    I mean, what does senior management mean? If you are in a large organisation does that mean the CEO and his exec team or the boss of your boss’ boss and above? If you are in a smaller firm is that just the MD or does it encompass others?

    The reason I ask is I am concerned about responsibility. Responsibility for our own actions and not just doing something because someone else says its ok. And, responsibility for agitating for change when something is not right or true.

    So, I ask…is it all about the Tops and who are they? Do these questions not apply to everyone in an organisation? And, what to do if we find that the Tops are not doing what we would like: leave, sulk or agitate for change?

    Adrian

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    • Hello Adrian

      Barry Oshry wrote a book called Seeing Systems. It is book based on experience. He is the one that coined the terms: Tops, Middles, Bottoms, Customers….

      In any organisation, the Tops are the people at the very top. The people that set the agenda, dictate the priorities, shape the overall policies. The Bottoms are the people who actually do the work. The Middles are the people who sit between the Tops and the Bottoms. The Middles are there to ensure that the wishes of the Tops are carried out.

      So the organisation that you study will determine who the Tops are. For example, in one organisation of 100 or so people the Tops were: the MD, the FD, the Sales Director, and the CTO. These were the people who collectively ran the organisation.

      If you take a larger organisation that I did consulting for some time ago, the Tops were: the MD, the FD, the Commercial Director, the Customer Services Director, the IT Director.

      Is it all about the Tops? I have a question for you, when was the last time that a call-centre agent fired the call-centre manager? When was the last time the call-centre manager carried out the appraisal for the Customer Service Director and set his agenda and priorities? Notice, the direction of power? It flow from the Top. The people at the Top shape the game including the players themselves.

      So the answer to your question is that it is not all about the Tops. And if you want to shape organisational culture – the way the organisation works – then not starting with the Tops is foolish. I will provide an example in my next blog post.

      What do you do if you find the Tops are not agitating for change? I cannot tell you what to do. I can say that in my consulting-coaching work, one of the first questions I ask is what is acceptable and not acceptable to senior management? I have learned through experience that this is the most practical way of getting things done. Put differently, there is no point wasting time and money on crafting paths the organisation will never travel because it conflicts with the needs-wishes of the Tops.

      All the best
      maz

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  3. Maz, I am with Adrian on this one.

    If you want to be good at anything, really good, then you have to focus on it and practice it and keep going long after everybody else has packed up and gone home.

    So I agree the tops have to be involved, but so do the middles and the bottoms. Speaking as a top of the middle I can honestly say it is hard work getting everybody to focus on one thing.

    James

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    • Hello James

      I find myself in agreement with you when you say that everybody has to be involved.

      This blogpost is about leverage. Where is it that little changes can make a big impact? Let’s say I take an IT manager and make him walk in the shoes of the customer. He gets the experience. Now, the question is this, what can he change? What about if the CEO walks in the customer’s shoes and finds his mind-heart awakened on what can be done better? What can the CEO change?

      Finally, which is more motivational to a frontline employee and sends a strong signal to the Middles, the Tops talking about customer-centricity or the Tops doing what I have suggested?

      All the best
      maz

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  4. Reblogged this on SME Business Forum and commented:
    Being a ‘Customer Company’ Must start at the top and permeate the culture of the organisation. Working on the principle that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, means that organisations must honestly audit their own culture and either improve areas of weakness or remove them. Like running a marathon, it’s not about the shoes, It’s the attitude!
    Looking forward to seeing this thread develop :-)

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