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By Holly G.
Have you taken a serious look at your customer relationships
recently? If not, now would be a good time. Recently, IBM polled
more than 1500 CEOs, general managers, and public sector leaders
around the globe on a variety of topics, including customer
relationships. This cross-section of executives represented
organizations in 60 countries and 33 different industries.
When asked how
they saw customer expectations changing over the next five years, 82
percent of survey participants said they expect customers to demand
a better understanding of their needs. Not ask for, but demand.
Seventy percent said their customers would expect new and different
So it’s not surprising that business leaders are putting
customer intimacy higher on their list of strategic priorities. In
fact, 88 percent of those polled identified “getting closer to the
customer” as the most important factor in realizing their strategies
over the next five years.
Keep in mind that these are not consultants, keynote
speakers, or “thought leaders” making these statements (although we
do make valuable contributions every now and then ourselves). These
are leaders of highly successful multinational organizations saying,
“Here’s what we need to do in order to achieve our strategic goals.”
Like many things in business, reinventing customer relationships is
much easier said than done. Based on what they learned in their
survey, IBM recommends three specific strategies:
1. Make customers
your #1 priority.
Every employee in
the company needs to be responsible for customer satisfaction. Not
just those who work directly with the customer, but every
Make it easy for customers to do business with you. This
requires giving employees the information and authority to solve
customer problems without a lot of red tape. Measure all employees
on a customer satisfaction metric. And most important, make sure
you know (don’t guess) what customers value and what motivates them
to buy your product or service.
2. Use two-way
communication to strengthen relationships.
The old days of sending out a customer satisfaction survey once a
year are long gone. Make customers part of your team. Find new
ways to communicate (i.e. social media) and new ways to evaluate and
leverage what they tell you. Get customers involved in your R&D or
new product development efforts. Involve your customers before and
beyond the sale, including care and service. Make doing business
with you as transparent as possible. Ask customers how you can make
it easier for them to do business with you.
3. Turn customer
data into customer information.
Develop new ways of gathering, analyzing, and using the information
customers provide about how you can help solve their problems and
achieve their goals. Make sure this information gets to everyone in
your organization who needs it.
These strategies seem right on target. But I would strongly
recommend one critical action step before implementing any new
customer relationship initiatives – unlearning what you think you
already know about customer relationships.
Our assumptions, beliefs, and “thought bubbles” about the way things
work are so deeply ingrained that we often don’t realize how
strongly they affect our thinking and decision-making processes.
Until we identify and discard outdated ideas, attitudes, and
assumptions about customer relationships, any efforts to move
forward with new approaches will feel like walking up a down
customer relationships starts with challenging everything we think
we know about them.
This involves asking questions like: When was the last time
we thoroughly reviewed our customer relationships? What has changed
in our world since then? What has changed in our customers’ world
since then? What assumptions are we making about our customers that
may no longer be true? What assumptions are we making about how to
deliver value to our customers that no longer may be true?
These questions help people to break away from the attitudes
and assumptions that keep them stuck in the past. The following
exercise encourages people to start looking ahead and thinking in
new and different ways:
Imagine that you’re starting the company over from scratch,
so for the moment put aside everything you know about running your
business. Imagine also that you have no constraints or resource
limitations. With that in mind, ask the following questions:
How would we go
about defining customer wants and needs?
How would we
serve this market differently?
technologies would we use to communicate with customers?
How would we
organize internally to better serve our customers?
that “have always been done this way” would we do differently
If we could
solve one customer problem that would put us so far ahead of the
competition that they could never catch up, what would it be?
company has the luxury of unlimited resources. So not every idea you
come up with will have practical application. But the goal is to
jolt people out of their customary ways of thinking so they can
begin the process of reinventing customer relationships without the
burden of potentially outdated thought processes. So first get very
clear on what you are currently thinking. Then define what your new
customer relationships need to look like. Then get to work on
finding from the IBM survey: organizations
that excel at extracting previously undiscovered insights from vast
amounts of customer information will enjoy a huge advantage in
deepening existing connections and creating new relationships.
So if you believe (as 1500 CEOs around the globe do) that customer
relationships represent a key component to strategic success, it
ultimately comes down to three critical tasks:
your customers in new ways to increase loyalty and generate new
demand and revenue sources.
customers more involved in your product and service development
to turn customer data into information and using it to
empower employees to deliver more value to your customers.
As the survey indicated, today’s customers aren’t asking to
be treated differently. They’re demanding it. How are you
reinventing yourself and your business to meet that demand?
Read other articles and learn more about
Holly G. Green.
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