Time to Position the Customer at the Centre of Your Business? Ask Better Questions.
I wrote a paper in 1996 for a conference in Vienna about the branded customer experience (using solutions focus, naturally). At the time, it felt slightly ahead of its time. It was, however, due to be eclipsed by the notion that it’s not the brand that matters but the customer’s view of the brand. Putting the customer at the centre of the business may seem an outlandishly impractical idea to most businesses, save for the few like Starbucks who did it from almost the beginning.
And yet, today we must. Why? Because customer influence and power continue to rise. The Net has created a savvy group of customers who are only going to get smarter. There’s no going back. Most organizations sense this but struggle.
It may be beyond our means to restructure the organization around the customer, but we certainly can reframe our organizational thinking.
Here’s a few practical, better questions to ask – the ideas drawn from clients with whom I have worked using the solutions focus approach:
- Never start a meeting about a customer service, product or experience without asking; how do we see this being useful for the customer? Describe its usefulness for each customer group, not just the mass. Set the bar higher than feels comfortable because by the time it’s implemented, it will be the norm
- The same applies to all strategic planning. The criteria for improving products and services isn’t just profitability and our processes. Simply ask, how does the customer gain and profit? Margins grow this way, not shrink
- All meetings about the customer should be cross-functional. Silos can’t make sensible decisions on behalf of the customer. The meeting should start with the question, how do we see this meeting being useful to each of us individually and as a team?
- Devolve decision-making to the front line. Create systems that let the customer-facing person make decisions that work for the customer. An occasional $25 decision-making latitude on the front line pays dividends in retention and loyalty. Ask when we solve the customer’s problem how will they reward us?
- Have criteria for decision-making in every meeting, mostly what works for the customer?
- Lastly, don’t agonize over what to do. Test and learn. The customer will tell you what works for them