Tag Archives: Word-of-Mouth

“Undercover Boss” for your CUSTOMERS…What’s your REAL EXPERIENCE…A Challenge for Leadership

Leaders who are Customer Obsessed focus on the customer ExperienceI’m pretty sure you have either seen an episode of Undercover Boss or at least have heard about it in some conversation. The concept was simple and brilliant…have the CEO of the company pretend to be an average worker to see how their employees did their job, what struggles they had, how they treated their customers, and what the CULTURE was of the company. It’s akin to the “secret shopper” idea only much more powerful because the feedback is going straight to the top person in the company.

If you like the idea and are up for a CHALLENGE, I have another version of this for you, the CEO or Business Owner or top Leader in your company.

Where I came up with this idea is from listening to countless Business Owners and top executives tell me over and over and over again how important their customers are to them and how well they treat them…really? I constantly challenge this because overall, the statistics tell me otherwise. I don’t believe they are trying to lie to me, I just think their “view of reality” is somewhat distorted from what is really going on inside their organizations. They see the way they treat their customers through a different lens than what the customers are seeing…and this is definitely the norm, not the exception.

While I still challenge this perspective…it only results in a “lose-lose” debate and I am more into “win-win”. So rather than simply debate it with leadership, I usually offer them some simple challenges to “prove me wrong” in my belief about how they are treating their customers. These “challenges” are both fun and illuminating to leaders. And the best part of most leaders is that when they see something that work better, they generally accept it and want to implement it…that’s what makes them great leaders.

Allow me to share with you one of my CHALLENGES TO LEADERSHIP in this area of CUSTOMER OBSESSION. I call it “THE FAMILY TEST”. It’s so simple, yet illuminating, you will wonder why you haven’t done this before.

Here’s how it works. It is similar to “undercover boss” only it’s not undercover…it’s blatantly out in the open. In a nutshell, it’s evaluating the difference between how “top level employee family members” are treated vs. your existing (and best) customers. Here are the simple steps…

  1. Make a list of your top executives…obviously and easy step…but based on the size of your company, you will determine how far down in the organization you have to go…smaller ones might go down to management…larger ones will stay with VP or Director levels
  2. Next to each name list their family members…including their spouse and children…depending on their age maybe even their grandchildren if they are of the appropriate age…if you sell toys you can go pretty young but if you sell commercial products they need to be older
  3. Identify your key products/services and assign to individuals…next to the name of each individual, assign one or more products/services that would make sense for them to buy from your company…they will actually become customers of your company
  4. Create a simple “buying plan”…now list out when you want them purchase these products from your company by going into your store or over the phone or via e-mail or online
  5. Execute and Identify themselves…the employees family members now descend upon your company in a variety of ways and purchase these specific products…but the key is to LET YOUR EMPLOYEES KNOW WHO THEY ARE…THEY ARE FAMILY MEMBERS OF AN IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE COMPANY…this is the critical for the challenge to be effective and work properly
  6. Observe and Evaluate…determine how family members of the executive employees were treated as compared to your normal (and best) customers…identify how they were greeted, how they were served, the speed of the transaction, the additional words of praise and thankfulness given to them by your employees, and the extra smiles they received…to name a few areas you can analyze…identify any differences that were present and log them into the spreadsheet next to their name
  7. Create a report…list out the feedback…where it was different from the normal interactions with customers and why it was different…for each family member in each area of the company through each purchasing process

Simple challenge…but powerful results. This is something you can do in a very short period of time to give you great insights into how your customers ARE BEING TREATED as compared to how they SHOULD BE TREATED. If the family members of your top executives are treated different than your paying customers, the ones that keep your doors open, you have to ask WHY.

WHY is it we don’t treat every customer as if they were as important as a family member of a top leader in the company? This is a tough question for most leaders to answer…because they “THINK THEY ARE” until they see the difference. This is what makes it similar to “undercover boss” and what makes it so powerful when you see the results and ask WHY it is different.

This is the point I make in my speeches as well…what you think is happening is often a “skewed view of reality” from what is really happening. This CHALLENGE is usually a tipping point for a leader to determine they need to explore a more CUSTOMER OBSESSED strategy inside their organization. There shouldn’t be any difference between your loyal paying customers and a leader’s family member. They should both be treated as if they were the most important person to the company.

When they are treated the same, you get comments like this from your customers, “WOW I love the way you treat me and make me feel so special and important…I love working with XYZ company and your people…I am definitely going to tell my friends and colleagues.”

Are you up for the CHALLENGE? I would love to hear your results. You don’t have to hire me…just share your results with me. We can all learn from each other. If 100 companies try this, 90 will find misalignment between the experiences of customers and family members and up to 10 will have some closer alignment. We can learn from all 100 and I will share the results (anonymously of course) if you choose to participate. Give it a shot…what do you have to lose other than tremendous insight into how your employees are treating your customers and your CUSTOMER CULTURE. But what you have to gain is also tremendous…the awareness that you have the opportunity to improve your customer experience and be differentiated from your competitors. I think that’s worth the effort, don’t you?

Competition is Game of “Cat and Mouse”…time to End It

competition is like a game of cat and mouse with an awesome customer experienceThe game of “Cat and Mouse” is one that usually never ends…one day the cat is chasing the mouse and the next day the mouse is chasing the cat. The end result is that neither one win…but they expend a tremendous amount of energy playing the game. This is not unlike many businesses today…especially small and mid-sized businesses.

But it doesn’t have to be this way…you can change the game where you WIN…ALL THE TIME! Stop playing the “cat and mouse” chasing game and elevate your business to be at the top of your industry…consistently and repeatedly. You can choose not to participate in this game and create a game where you are in control and can consistently lead your industry.

Competition is often times more imagined than real…it takes on a new life and creates fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. But it doesn’t have to be…it can take a back seat and you can watch it in your rear view mirror.

When I ask business owners and leaders who their competition is, they can immediately give me a list of names. They can even prioritize them for me…easily. And when I ask them “WHY” they are such a strong competitor, this is what I usually hear…

  • They are much bigger than us and have lots more resources
  • They carry more products and have a broader product line than we do
  • Their services are broader or deeper in certain areas
  • They are always offering a lower price than we can offer
  • They have most of the top customers in our field
  • They have some of the best employees in our industry
  • They have…and the list goes on

I would argue that while these may be very real and true, they aren’t your real competitive threats. These are all COMMODITIES…areas that anyone can compete in if they offer more of it, lower pricing, and attractive deals to employees and customers. They can be “traded” back and forth at any point in time. And the one that happens to have the “best deal” in any one of these areas at a single point in time can be the leader…for the moment.

This is the number one issue with playing in the “COMMODITY GAME”…the game of “Cat and Mouse”…and you can be the leader for only a certain period of time until someone comes in and takes this away from you. Then you have to figure out how to get back on top and take it away from them. It’s a “cat and mouse” game where everyone in the sector chases each other around…sometimes you are in the lead being chased and sometimes you are the one chasing someone else in the lead.

It doesn’t have to be this way…you can end it…CHANGE THE GAME of ALWAYS BEING CHASED.

If you listen closely to the leaders of some of the largest, most successful companies, they will tell why they are always in the lead and don’t play the cat and mouse game. And they all say the same thing…“If you treat the customer better than anyone else in your industry, you will be the leader.” Whether you are Virgin America, Zappos, Amazon, Nordstrom, or a host of other companies that are recognized industry leaders, they all focus on the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE as their primary differentiator…their primary COMPETITOR KILLER.

All these “best companies” know they can’t win in the commodity game…and they don’t want/try to. One of my favorite phrases of all time is, “You can’t ever win the race to the bottom.” Playing the commodity game means you have entered the race to the bottom…trying to win in competitive areas such as price. This will eventually erode your business along with everyone else in your category or industry. Let me share an interesting way to think about this race to the bottom…one that you may have already experienced.

Let’s say you decide to cut your prices just a bit so that you can try and lure customers away from your competition. You succeed…and you pick up some of their customers. Your competition sees this happening and determines that this is a good strategy to do as well. After all, it worked to attract customers away from them…so they lower their prices a bit as well. Then another competitor sees this and says we can take customers away from both of you if we lower prices quite a bit, which they do, and they pull a bunch of customers away from both you and your other competitors. This goes on and on and on until at some point you are barely profitable and you have had to cut costs, lay off people, and lessen your service. Then something happens…

A brand new competitor comes in…someone you have never heard of or seen before in your industry. They don’t cut prices…in fact their prices are markedly higher than yours and your competitors. But they offer an incredibly amazing experience…one your customers immediately sit up and take notice of and want to check out. They check it out…it’s awesome…they love it…they want more of it…they want to tell all their friends about it because it is so phenomenal compared to you and your other competitors. So THEY LEAVE AND NEVER COME BACK.

This is happening all the time today in almost every industry…and this trend is going to continue to grow. Think Uber, Airbnb, Legal Zoom, and many others that have come in out of nowhere and taken away millions of customers from competitors fighting it out with each other. They offered a different model that gave the customers a better experience at a reasonable price…they are taking your market share away and they came out of nowhere.

THIS WILL CONTINUE…AT A VERY RAPID PACE WELL INTO THE FUTURE. You and I, the customer, are dying to have this happen. We are tired of all the gimmicks, price battles, and being treated poorly. We DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS ANY LONGER. We want (and deserve) to be treated like we matter…because we do and we will take our dollars and spend it on those businesses that recognize this and deliver it to us.

THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY FOR ANY BUSINESS IN ANY INDUSTRY TODAY. The question is whether you, the owner and leader, can see it and be willing to transform your company to take advantage of it. If you do, I promise you will not have to play the “cat and mouse” game any longer…you will be the one everyone is chasing.

What Message Does Your STRATEGY Send to your CUSTOMERS?

Everyone needs a business strategy and a Customer Obsessed Strategy makes companies remarkableSTRATEGY IS AWESOME…I can’t say enough about how important this is to an organization. When I started helping companies develop their Business Strategy over 20 years ago I realized this was the heartbeat of every business. And I never minded doing the 3 day retreats in some nice location and getting in a little golf on the side either. I digress…this isn’t about the golf…it’s about your future.

The reason Business Strategy is so critical is one simple reason…it says what you believe in and where you are going to invest your resources (people and money) for the long term (which can be as short as couple years to maybe 5 in today’s fast changing world). It tells the two most important people associated with your company (customers and employees) what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. It is the “rudder on your boat” that allows you to steer it in the direction you want.

Companies that don’t believe in setting a strategy (Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals) have essentially made a decision as well…following the famous quote, “If you don’t know where you are going any path will get you there.” These companies are essentially saying we will let the market determine our path and future rather than us…certainly a choice, but one I feel is destined for failure. Using the boat example once more, it’s like the canoe going down a river…if you want to go where the river takes you, do nothing…if you want to go where you want, start rowing and steering.

But this isn’t a discussion of the Strategic Planning process…this is about one vital reason WHY YOU SHOULD PLAN and WHAT SHOULD BE IN YOUR PLAN. There are many reasons why you want to do a strategic business plan for your company (more on that in future posts)…but one I want to zero in on is an “external reason” for planning…YOUR CUSTOMERS.

There are two incredibly critical aspects to a Strategic Business Plan…

  1. HAVING A PLAN…what does it say to your customers (and employees) if you don’t have well thought out and documented strategic business plan? It says you are willing to roll the dice and go in whatever direction looks good at the time. It is saying you aren’t really sure of the future and where you want to go…you aren’t putting a stake in the ground and telling them this is where you want to head. This is very dangerous in my opinion…it communicates either you don’t know or you don’t care.
  2. WHAT DOES THE PLAN COMMUNICATE…if you have decided to create a plan, what is it saying to your customers and employees? If the plan is about growth and expansion, new products and services, operational efficiencies, or other such aspects, what do your customers think? They might initially feel these are great and you are really trying to improve your company…but then they stop and say, “But what about me, the customer?” They want to see them in your plan…how you are going to help them in their business and their lives…how you are going to treating them…how IMPORTANT are they to you. This is what the customer wants to see in your plan…maybe selfishly, but it is the reality of today. Without them specifically in your plan, they will assume you don’t care…that they aren’t the center of your world…that you are simply using them as a means to make money. This too is a very dangerous position…leaving them out communicates either you don’t know or you don’t care.

We will ignore reason #1 above for now and just leave it that if you don’t have a plan, we need to talk…you need to create a business strategy and have a plan…it’s just something that needs to get done.

We will focus on reason #2 above…what is the MESSAGE that is being sent to your customers when they see your Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals (MVVG) when you get back from your retreat? In the Internet Revolution we live in today, one thing is for certain, “IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.” Everyone wants to know what’s in it for them…how is this going to help them…what are you going to do to make my life better. If they read your MVVG and it isn’t about them, they have just labeled you as another COMMODITY company. They may continue to buy from you, as long as your price and terms are the lowest, but certainly won’t have the passion or loyalty towards your business. This, too, is very dangerous for your future survival.

Today, the customer has told us over and over and over again, if I am not the center of your business and you don’t build it around me, you won’t get my LOYALTY AND ADVOCACY…which are the holy grails for businesses today.

Customer experience is the new battleground for companies that can no longer win customer loyalty based exclusively on product features (too easy to copy), selection (‘I can always find an alternative product or service online’), or price (‘At any given moment I can almost certainly find a lower price’).”

— Harley Manning, Forrester Research

The Customer has made it very clear that if they aren’t at the CENTER of your business and you don’t give them an awesome customer experience, they won’t reward you with their loyalty or advocacy. They will merely stick around until there is “the next best deal” and then they will leave.

OBSESSING OVER YOUR CUSTOMER is the new foundation for Business Strategy. It is about building your ENTIRE BUSINESS around the customer…something the vast majority of companies have not done. The Industrial Revolution allowed us to build companies around our products and services…the Internet Revolution is demanding we build our company around our customer.

This doesn’t mean just “including” your customer in the verbiage, but building every process and interaction in your company around doing something special for your customer. This takes work…it takes incredible focus…it takes relentless execution…it takes a CUTOMER OBSESSED BUSINESS STRATEGY.

So the next time you and your leadership team decide it might be time to revise your even build a new business strategy for your future, think about the message this strategy will send to your customer as a place to start. If your strategy is about OBSESSING OVER YOUR CUSTOMER then your customers will hear this, see it being built, and feel it impacting their lives. NOW they will reward you with their LOYALTY, ADVOCACY, and WORD-OF MOUTH to all their friends, connections, and colleagues.

This is the BOLD MESSAGE you want to be communicating to your audience with your STRATEGIC BUSINESS PLAN. This is what will set you apart…this is what industry leaders do…this is success.

If you found this helpful, please hit the share ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below. It not only means a lot to me but it helps other people see the story. And if this resonated with you, please visit my WOM10 site and read more posts like this one…have an awesome day!

Customers Buy How you MAKE THEM FEEL

Customers have the best experience when you make them feel specialThe era of marketing and selling FEATURES is dead. Since leaving the Industrial Revolution behind and welcoming in the Internet Revolution, “features” have become a COMMODITY. We don’t need you to give me the features any longer…I can find them out on my own.

And even BENEFITS are not cutting it as much any longer. They are great…but similar to features, everyone has them and talks about them. What I need from you is to help me understand HOW what you have is going to MAKE ME FEEL after purchasing and using your product or service.

Will it make me feel more…

  • Powerful
  • Beautiful
  • Knowledgeable
  • Confident
  • Capable
  • Intelligent
  • Productive
  • Safe and Secure
  • Any other feeling…insert here

If I can’t see how purchasing and using your product will help me feel (pick one or more from the list), why would I buy it? Why would I purchase something based on your FEATURES if I can’t see how it will “transform” me into something I want to become?

When someone asks you the famous question, “Why did you buy it?” do you immediately recite all the amazing features the product has, as if you were reading the detailed description listed on the side of the box? Of course you don’t…you tell them how it is going to transform, change, or improve your life. You want them to know why this is such an important product in your life and how it is going to do something amazing for you…or your company.

By the way, if you are thinking this is simply for consumer purchases you are missing the point…this is as much (or more) for businesses that sell to other businesses. We sell to people, not companies…

Some might also think this is the same as selling the BENEFITS of our product or service…it’s not. There are most certainly benefits to your product or service but this is different…it is about “personalizing the benefit” to the person so they see how it personally can impact their life.

Take a very simple example…something as mundane as a power drill. We could sell all the FEATURES of our “black drill” including its speed, construction, battery life, etc. This makes it a commodity and I can shop these around the internet quickly and find the drill with the same features at the best price. Or I can sell the BENEFITS of the “red drill” and say it will make the job go easier, smoother, faster, and make me more efficient. These are certainly more important, but they aren’t personalized. Or I can help you understand how buying the “green drill” will MAKE YOU FEEL when you use it…more in control of being able to do any job you ever imagined around the house and our spouse will think you rock, a more powerful person because you can now tackle any job, more prestigious because you own the most advanced drill on the market, smarter because you didn’t buy the cheap stuff but went for the real quality product. See the difference…which drill would you buy? The green drill…

Overlay this onto your own products and services today. This is especially true in the technology world we live in today. Everyone loves to talk about their cool FEATURES. And even if you are first to market, there is someone coming in right behind you…probably so fast you can hear the ground shaking as they approach. When they get here, they will have even better features…how do you win in this game with such a low barrier to entry in the world today? If you choose to play here, you are telling us you are a commodity.

Other companies make a concerted effort to showcase their BENEFITS to you…while this is better, it isn’t the answer either. As you can see from the simple example above, benefits are great but they don’t personalize the product to how it is going to make me feel. They simply give me ideas on how I can better use the product or service to accomplish what I want to accomplish.

The very best companies focus on how using their product or service will MAKE YOU FEEL. They spend the time to help transform me into a different place…seeing myself as being better than I was before I used their product or service. This transformation is what helps you achieve your dreams, realize greater potential, and move to higher levels because you used their product or service. And who doesn’t want to feel this way.

The next time you are talking about your product or service, change the way you share it with your potential customers. Skip the features…you can direct them to your website or the internet overall to find all the features of your product. Share with them the benefits that can help them do their jobs better (personal or professional). But go the extra mile…find ways to talk to them about how they are going to feel during and after using your product. Show them how they are going to have “bragging rights” after using your product or service. Help them transport themselves into this world and they can’t wait to experience your product or service.

Now you have something they can become passionate about…you have something they will talk about to others. NO ONE goes to the party and recites your features. SOME may tell others about the benefits of using your product or service. But EVERYONE loves to talk about how it MADE THEM FEEL. If you want to create more WORD-OF-MOUTH and have your customers help you do your marketing and selling for you…transport them into this new world.

Thanks for reading…If you found this helpful, please hit the share ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below. It not only means a lot to me but it helps other people see the story. And if this resonated with you, please visit my WOM10 site and read more posts like this one…have an awesome day!

Customer OBSESSION is NOT the same as Customer CENTRICITY…Part Two

Customer Experience is at the center of Customer Obsession and Customer CentricityYesterday I talked in depth about CUSTOMER CENTRICITY and how important it is for companies today…especially in the highly commoditized world we live in today. And while Customer Centricity is a critical to your success in the future, there is a “higher level” I would like to take you to…CUSTOMER OBSESSION. Customer Obsession is above and beyond being Customer Centric.

You know how passionate I am about OBSESSING OVER YOUR CUSTOMERS and how this is at the core of creating a REMARKABLE COMPANY. But what exactly does this mean? And if you wanted to tell your customers, “Hey, we’ve made a decision to be a ‘Customer Obsessed’ company and I want to let you know what that specifically means to you, our customer,” what would you actually tell them? This is the key question I would want a company’s leadership team to tackle and be very specific about. If you can’t be specific about your answer, I’m pretty sure your customer won’t get it either. So let me give you a simple, straightforward way to talk about this and make it happen!

The word “OBSESSION” is a powerful word to me…it is one is infused with emotion. When you say the word ‘obsession’ you immediately feel some kind of emotional connection to the word. This is a “passion” word for most people and one they can immediately relate to in a conversation. It’s a word that doesn’t need much explanation (unlike most the words academia and large consulting firms use/create). This is very important when you are trying to explain what you are talking about and what you will be delivering that is completely differentiating. To me…it’s the perfect word to describe something you are “over the top” committed to, completely behind, and can use to get your employees, customers, and others excited about. I love this word!

When we attach this powerful word to CUSTOMER, it takes on a very special meaning…well beyond CUSTOMER CENTRICITY (and light years ahead of ‘customer satisfaction’). Customer Centricity is about “aligning all your business processes and operations to put the customer first and in the center of everything.” Customer Centricity is critical as a foundation for one primary reason…when there are decisions to be made about which direction to go or what changes to make, you ask yourself whether this will improve the customers experience and life or will it detract from it. Being Customer Centric makes this decision much easier for leadership and management…and ultimately your employees. It is a critical foundation to have inside your company to begin to differentiate.

CUSTOMER OBSESSION takes you beyond where Customer Centricity leaves off…it INFUSES THE EMOTIONAL COMPONENT TO CUSTOMER CENTRICITY.

Customer Obsession adds in the element of “how does this make our customer feel” after any interaction with our company. It not only focuses on helping make their lives easier but also focuses on how it makes them feel when we are helping them in some way. Words that are more in alignment with Customer Obsession would be, DID WE MAKE THEM FEEL…

  • Special
  • Important
  • Valuable
  • Unique

When your customer has these emotions attached to their experience with your organization and when they interact with all your employees, they become “emotionally attached” to the company and your people. And when someone is emotionally attached, it is much harder to break that bond…meaning it’s much harder for the competition to tear them away from their relationship with your company. This added “emotional connection” is the superglue to customer centricity and what takes you to an entirely new level. This is at the core of what CUSTOMER OBSESSION. It is also why it is so important for an organization to aspire to if they want to build LOYALTY AND ADVOCACY with their customers.

And when an organization has been able to achieve Loyalty and Advocacy, the competition becomes more irrelevant with every interaction they have with you. It is also what builds in “price elasticity” where you can command a certain premium because of the way you obsess over your customers. In other words, the customer is willing to pay you more when they are emotionally connected to your organization because of the way you make them feel. It can also give you a greater “share of wallet” per customer because they are typically willing to spend more of their dollars with a company that makes them FEEL AWESOME!!

One final, yet critically important element you get with Customer Obsession and what ultimately pushes this even further over the edge…beyond Customer Centricity…WORD-OF-MOUTH! When a customer feels you truly are obsessing over them, feels special and important, and knows that your company is all about helping improve their life…they talk about you. And in the Internet Revolution and the mass adoption of social media, they talk about you a lot…and to very large audiences. From our research, over 70% of the conversations that happen on social media are “experiential”…meaning they are talking about some type of experience as opposed to products and services. With this volume of conversation about the experience they have had (or are having) they have become a mouthpiece for your company.

When a customer is a mouthpiece, they become your ADVOCATE and are not shy about sharing how awesome, incredible, and REMARKABLE you are as an organization…and how amazing you make them feel. THIS IS ZERO COST MARKETING when your audience is doing the marketing for you. Tony Hsieh of Zappos figured this out early on and built a company to over a billion dollars in sales in less than 10 years on this core belief. When your customers know you are obsessed with helping them improve their life and give them a REMARKABLE EXPERIENCE, they tell others. This is (and always has been) the most credible form of marketing.

I hope this has inspired you, as the head or leader of your organization, to rethink where you are with your customers and to give you more insights into what it looks like to have both a CUSTOMER CENTRIC FOUNDATION with a strategy for becoming a CUSTOMER OBSESSED ORGANIZATION.

Thanks for reading…If you found this helpful, please hit the share ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons below. It not only means a lot to me but it helps other people see the story. And if this resonated with you, please visit my WOM10 site and read more posts like this one…have an awesome day!

Customer OBSESSION is NOT the same as Customer CENTRICITY…Part One

Customer Experience is at the center of Customer Obsession and Customer CentricityIf you have followed me for any length of time, read what I write about, or heard me speak, you already know how passionate I am about OBSESSING OVER YOUR CUSTOMERS and how this is at the core of creating a REMARKABLE company. But what you might also have seen is that I talk about Customer Centricity. Often times I get asked if they are one in the same…the same message just dressed up in different terms. They’re not…

For the purposes of this post…allow me to give you a bit more depth on CUSTOMER CENTRICITY. My next post I will share the DIFFERENCES between this and CUSTOMER OBSESSION. They are markedly different in one primary way but in many other ways so while many might use the terms interchangeably, they aren’t the same internally to your employees or externally to your customers.

Customer Centricity is a term that was created some time ago…the history is difficult to pin down since many claim to have started talking about it as far back as the 1960s. But academia (Harvard and others) have taken up the term much more aggressively in the past several years to describe a different way of thinking about an organization. So while the historical timing and ownership is hard to pin down, the concept is pretty easy to understand…yet often difficult to implement…which makes it an awesome differentiator for companies that choose this path.

In a nutshell, Customer Centricity is simply creating everything in your organization with the customer at the center…every process, operation, interaction, and strategy. The customer is always “first” when any decision is made…answering the simple question, “How will this process, system, product/service or change affect our customers.” This allows the customer to be at the center of decision making as opposed to products or services. As we know, the Industrial Revolution was all about being “Product/Service Centric” where everything was about making more products in mass quantities and getting it distributed as efficiently as possible to customers.

Today companies are finding out that a “Product/Service Centric” company is becoming rapidly “commoditized” because of the low barrier to entry from world competition. In other words, competitors show up much faster and easier than ever before in history since we have a global economy and will undercut your price/terms/delivery or other elements in an instant…causing you to potentially lose your market share overnight. This is why virtually every product or service has felt much greater competitive pressures today than ever before in history and why everyone is feeling the threat of commoditization.

Customer Centricity has experienced a massive resurgence in recent years because of this ever present threat of commoditization. When prices are getting slashed, companies look to other means to keep prices stable and maintain customers. Some have chosen to seek the higher ground in the Tsunami of commoditization by being more about the customer and building in processes and systems to support them in ways they have never done before…being all about the customer.

At the heart of this “being all about the customer” is the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE. If you don’t deliver a Customer Experience that rocks the customer and causes them to say, “WOW, you are awesome and I love interacting and buying from you,” you risk extinction in the world of commoditization. This is why companies are venturing out into the world of being all about the customer…CUSTOMER CENTRICITY. Unfortunately…or fortunately (depending on your perspective) this isn’t easy…in fact it takes a lot of focused work and commitment from the very top leadership team in the company. This is not a “nice to have” it is a “have to have” if you are going to be successful. This is always the first place I start when working with an organization…if the top person and their team aren’t committed 100% we don’t start because the probability of success goes down significantly.

This process of transforming your organization from “Product/Service Centric” to “Customer Centric” isn’t for the “non-committed” or even the “sort-of committed” because it takes focused work for a length of time…it isn’t easy…but if it was, everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be the HUGE DIFFERENTIATOR it is today. But for those that are willing to do the work and make the investment of time, money, and resources, it is an incredibly rewarding position to have in the market.

I’ll leave you with this today…CUSTOMER CENTRICITY is so much more powerful and dominating than being Product or Service Centric…it is not just for survival, it is for eclipsing your competition and setting yourself apart from them. It is a chance to stand out and stand alone in your customers eyes. Being all about the one audience that pays your company, your employees, and your stakeholders is never a bad thing…and never goes out of style.

There are examples throughout history of Customer Centric companies that dominated in their industries…many of them existed even before the Industrial Revolution when it became more about mass production and mass marketing. Their principles have not only been reborn, they have been scaled up and leveraged today so companies can get significantly more benefit and impact than ever existed before our Internet Revolution.

But this isn’t the end of this story…there is one more chapter that takes you even further than Customer Centricity…CUSTOMER OBSESSION. It is different and it is even more powerful in the market than Customer Centricity. I will save that thunder for my post tomorrow…

Banks putting “The Customer First”…WHAT???

Customer Centricity is being all about your customer and delivering a remarkable customer experience every dayDuring my travels, speaking to business leaders, and in my speeches I often ask which industries they feel does a great job at delivering a memorable and awesome experience and which ones really suck at it. Some time I can share a longer list with you but for now, one of those that usually makes it to the top of the list of those experiences that suck are Banks…financial institutions.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with them in most situations. This is an industry that has skated by because they were a “necessity” to people so they never felt like they had to actually treat you the way you wanted to be treated. In fact, many people comment that they actually have quite negative feelings going into a bank…one of guilt or shame. Really…a business that makes you feel guilty when you go into visit them…this can’t be a good emotion to have your customers feeling.

When we look at the industry overall, it is one built on numbers, percentages, and ratios. If you fit, you get access…if you don’t, you get to feel this level of guilt, embarrassment, and shame. Banks didn’t earn the phrase, “The only ones that can get a loan are the ones that don’t need a loan,” for nothing. You don’t meet the numbers, you get rejected…left feeling embarrassed that you are something of a failure and less than everyone else. What a great customer experience to have in the market.  This is the makings of a true commodity business.

But there are some bright spots emerging in the banking industry…they are starting to get it more than ever before…because they are losing customers to other options. I personally think the banking industry is one of the top ones to be disrupted sometime within the next 5 years…major disruption that can completely change the way we interact with our money. That’s a topic for another post for sure.

One bank I read about from a post by the CEO of TIAA, Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. when he wrote a post in LinkedIn called, “A “Big Idea” for Financial Services: Put the Customer First.” Of course you probably figured I would be captivated by the title knowing how obsessed I am with the whole customer experience platform. I loved his concept for TIAA…PUT THE CUSTOMER FIRST. This isn’t what you expect to see from financial institutions.

In case you don’t have time to read the full post, allow me to share some of the highlights from it that I think really capture his focus and message…

“It’s vital that Americans regain trust in our industry. The sector drives substantial economic activity and serves as a catalyst for direct and indirect job creation. But beyond purely economic calculations, financial services firms play an important social role.”

“In the current environment, our nation faces a number of financial challenges, from spiraling student loan debt to growing concerns about financial security in retirement. More than ever, Americans need help in achieving financial well-being throughout their lives – especially in retirement. Americans need to know that financial firms will help them meet these challenges in a way that puts the customers’ interests first.”

““Put the customer first” may not be a new idea, but in the financial services industry, it qualifies as the kind of “#bigidea” that can be a game-changer – and its time has come.”

Kudos to Mr. Ferguson for taking a stand in the right direction…putting his customers first in everything they do. This is truly on the path to CUSTOMER OBSESSION and would be a breath of fresh air in the financial industry. It is definitely something I want to follow and see how he progresses in such an archaic industry when it comes to customer experiences. I wish him all the best…but most of all, I hope the other “lemming” financial institutions will follow his lead…wouldn’t that be something to see in our lifetime!

Thanks for taking time to read my post…if you found it helpful, hit the “like” below as it helps other see the story and always means a lot to me. And if you want more posts like this, follow me on Pulse or simply check out my BLOG.

Forget the “Numbers”…they’re Misleading You

Social Media numbers don't matter as much as the right customers spreading word of mouth about youFrom the beginning of the Internet Revolution and the tidal wave of Social Media, one thing everyone wants to talk about is NUMBERS. How many followers, connections, hits on your website, page views, e-mail marketing list subscribers, and a host of other metrics…all designed to tell you what a great job you are doing reaching your audience. I want to suggest a reason why you might want to ignore the numbers…they just may be misleading you!

I know this statement will raise the hair on the back of the neck of the people who are charged with creating these numbers and analyzing them on a daily basis…but there’s another aspect to consider. In reality, numbers are very valuable…the right numbers…at the right time. With so much emphasis on getting big numbers that can prove your point (we all know you can use numbers anyway you want to make a point) I see leaders missing some key numbers and information.

IF YOUR AUDIENCE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOU, DO YOU CARE ABOUT GETTING MORE OF THEM?

This is an issue of QUALITY over QUANTITY. In the early days of social media, everyone wanted big numbers…the more followers you had the more important you were perceived to be. In the early days of social media, some of my peers did everything they could to get their follower numbers up higher than anyone else so they could demonstrate how important they were…they weren’t. The audience didn’t really care about them or their content, they just followed them. But they had thousands upon thousands of followers and connections.

And so it continued…they spoke about how critical it was to have big numbers and so everyone got on the bandwagon and started generating big numbers. There were companies born solely in the business of helping people grab lots of followers and “likes” in facebook. You could easily buy 500, 1000, 10,000 of these if you wanted. If you didn’t have big numbers in social media you weren’t important.

THEY MISSED THE POINT…IT DOESN’T MATTER.

What they missed is the fact that NO ONE CARED ABOUT YOU…they cared about the numbers. So essentially what was being created was the exact same model that had just been killed…broadcasting messages to huge audiences in the hopes someone would notice and pay attention. This was nothing more than automating through social channels the “spray and pray” strategy that had been used during the Industrial Revolution…only they could spray you more often and with more data…UGH. This wasn’t working any better than it did before…sending your message to thousands in the hopes one or two might respond. It didn’t work…the numbers were misleading you…THEY DIDN’T CARE ABOUT YOU OR YOUR CONTENT.

Today, I would suggest that follower counts and numbers are generally IRRELEVANT. They don’t tell the story about who really matters to you and your business. What matters is the number of people who actually care about you, what you do, and the content you produce. Knowing who wants to engage in a conversation with you, willing to be loyal to you, and will tell others about you…those people matter. The rest, they are just people that “hang on” for the ride but will never do anything to help you in what you are doing. They don’t really matter. Unfortunately for most, this is the majority of their large follower base of people. Knowing who matters is what makes social media valuable and useful to you and your business.

In my speeches, I tell leaders I would rather have 10 customers that rave about me and think I walk on water with how I can help their business…they give constant feedback and they tell others…lots of others. I would trade that for 1000 followers or connections that don’t really care about what I am about or what I provide. These are meaningless numbers to me. I don’t play that numbers game…I want to connect to those who care and those I can truly help. If I can’t help them or they aren’t interested in the information I provide about ways they can become a remarkable company, they don’t matter.

These numbers shouldn’t matter to you either…especially if they aren’t interested in you as a company, an individual, or how you can help them with your product or service or experience. They just don’t matter to you.

Others might say, “Well they might know someone who does need your services or wants your information.” I disagree this is a valid source…people know people like themselves who are interested in the same things and have similar needs…not outsiders. They don’t really have the influence in the audience you want…this is wishful thinking. This is like the newspapers and radio stations telling you that since they play country music and you are focused on people who like classical that they will tell all the people they know about your classical music station. They won’t because they know other people who like country music, not those that are passionate about classical music. Simple example but easy to understand when you are talking about your content relating to your business.

Don’t let meaningless numbers mislead you to think you are doing great and making lots of progress when you aren’t…connect to the right audience and they will tell more of the right audience and this is how you grow the right audience. These don’t have to be big numbers to make this process happen. Focus on what’s important to the right persona audience and those numbers are valuable…and they don’t have to be big…just the right numbers.

When you focus on the right audience, you don’t need big numbers…unless they are in the right audience…then this is awesome. Fire the ones (unfollow or disconnect) from those that aren’t the right personas…they will only clog up your networks with others that are the wrong personas. Keep your channels clean and with the right people and watch it grow with more and more of the right audience for your message and your products/services and customer experience.

The “CAMPFIRE” Strategy for Business Leaders

WOM - Bar imageEveryone has sat around a campfire at one time or another in their life…most of us I would venture to say still do it regularly as a social event. When you think about what goes on around a campfire, you will understand just how critical it can be for your business.

What happens around the campfire…STORIES…lots of them. And when one story is told, someone else has an opinion, a perspective, questions, or some other discussion they would like to add. One story leads to another and another and another until either the wine runs out or the cigars are all smoked or the s’mores are all eaten. But until then, something very interesting happens around the campfire.

Campfires are like a “truth serum” for people…they tend to want to talk and tell whoever is there something in-depth about whatever the topic is that is being discussed. Besides the stories, people tend to talk about their relationships, their businesses, their employees, customers, and a host of other topics that are normally taboo during the day come to life at night over the campfire. Everyone feel safe and protected by the campfire and so the words flow out…

If you want to know what’s really going on with your customers…the real truth behind how they are treated and how they feel about you, invite them to a campfire. The wine doesn’t hurt either but the campfire will help them feel safe and comfortable and open up about what is going on with them and what they love and hate about their relationship with you and your company.

I remember back in my early days, my first job out of graduate school when I went to work for IBM. It was an awesome experience and company to work for and the branch manager, Paul Willingham, was a great leader. He knew the value of the campfire. Every year he held an overnight fishing trip for salmon off the coast of Washington for some of our best customers. And you guessed it…there were campfires, wine, cigars, and even some poker going on. This is where you learned what your customers really thought of you and where they thought you could improve.

There was no survey on the planet that would have given us this depth of information…it was amazing. Some of it was not so good to hear but all of it was incredibly valuable. We took this information and figured out what we were going to do over the next year to improve upon our service and experience based on what we heard. The key to all of this was to have less wine than your customer or you couldn’t remember anything important…and taking notes wasn’t going to work in the darkness of the night. So clear thinking was critically important.

The point of all of this is that your customer is very willing to talk to you…in fact they always tell me that most companies just really don’t ask the right questions at the right time. They are willing to tell us but the circumstances have to be right as well as the person you are seeking the information from. In my IBM story, all of these people were leaders of IT, CEO, VPs of something…they were key decision makers in the organization and had no problem telling you the way it was from their perspective. The truth serum of the campfire always worked.

For any business, regardless of the industry, this strategy works. Leaders and decision makers inside your customer organizations are more than willing to tell you about their experiences and what they like and dislike. They just need to be asked in the right way at the right time with the right questions. And they need to be free to simply talk…and tell their own stories. This isn’t the time to solve issues or disagree with what they are saying, this is the time for leaders to LISTEN and continue to listen and bite their tongue when they want to say something to defend what they do. This is the most valuable customer information you can get so let it flow long and deep.

If you are striving to be more OBSESSED about your CUSTOMERS and move towards being Customer Centric, you need to schedule some campfire outings…several of them with various groups with your customer organizations.

Customer Experiences are at the core of being obsessed over your customers. You can‘t obsess over them if you don’t know the experience they desire and would rave about and tell others about…it’s impossible. And an experience isn’t the products and services you deliver…it’s how they “feel with every interaction” they have with your company. They need to tell you what makes them feel awesome and what makes them feel like a “number” in your system. They have to be open to talk about what they tell others about you…good and bad. And the campfire is one way to get this depth of information.

The beauty of the campfire strategy is they are there to enjoy themselves…they feel comfortable. You can use other such venues but this is one that is guaranteed to get you some incredibly deep information they won’t give you under normal circumstances. Dinners and lunches out won’t do it, it just wastes your money and gets you surface information. You need something like a campfire to get to their real feelings and truth behind their experience.

Whether you use the campfire or something else that allows your customers to really get deep and personal about their customer experience, the point is to go deep…get the information others can’t get at and then create a plan of how to deliver this to your customers. Gathering the information is the first step…creating a plan…along with Customer Experience Maps…will get you to delivering this experience to your customers. And when you do, they will be amazed and tell others how you listened and acted.

And when you invite them to the next campfire session, they will be first in line to sign up and go with you…and you will get even deeper information the second time and third time and every time they attend. Getting this type of personal information from your best customers is more than critical today for organizations that are under constant attack from competitors and being commoditized. But holding a campfire outing is one way you can beat them out by knowing more than any of them would ever hope to know. Need some wood and matches???

RISK Management isn’t about Mitigation…it’s about CHOICES

Risk management isn't about mitigation it is about opportunity choices like with customer experiencesI talk about RISK a lot in speeches and Strategic Planning Workshops/Retreats…it is always a topic that warrants discussion. But one topic that always comes up when we talk about risk is how to minimize it…how to mitigate it. More often than not, most think the goal of Risk Management is to get risk down the lowest level possible. Allow me to introduce a different way of thinking about Risk Management.

There are absolutely areas where “risk mitigation” is the best strategy…such as security risk. You want this to be as low as possible. But what about your business overall…do you want to take away all the risks? I don’t think you should…here’s why.

Risk is not just about the bad things that can happen…it’s about OPPORTUNITIES as well. Risk represents the chance to score on some opportunities others aren’t willing to explore or take. It represents the challenge to think differently and perhaps move far ahead of your competitors…who are also trying to mitigate their risks.

Risk Management should be thought about with regard to the Wayne Gretzky quote…“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” If you always skate to where the puck is you will be safe…you know what you see and where you are going…but so does everyone else. There is no differentiation when you skate to where the puck is…it’s where your competition hangs out. You are essentially saying you are willing to play the “commodity game” and be like everyone else only possibly cheaper…not a strategy to take advantage of opportunities.

Here’s the key question every CEO or Business Owner needs to ask, “Are you willing to take on some additional RISK to take advantage of the OPPORTUNITIES that exist where the puck is going to be?”

TODAY, THE BIGGEST RISK A COMPANY CAN TAKE IS TO PLAY IT SAFE…stay in their lane and don’t do anything unusual. This is almost certain death for a business in the new Internet Revolution. It is proving to be a sure path to extinction.

Blue Ocean strategies weren’t created to stay in the pack and not venture out away from your competition. These strategies encourage you to reinvent a space you are in and create an entirely different model that will allow you to take advantages of opportunities your competitors don’t see or aren’t exploring…become DIFFERENTIATED. This is a choice.

But the concept of creating a differentiated strategy doesn’t have to be related to a product or service…meaning you don’t have to find new products or services to offer your customers. There’s another way (possibly easier and at a lower cost) that can be even more lucrative and allow you to stay with your existing business. Creating a totally awesome, incredible, and remarkable CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE can allow you to achieve the same (if not more) benefits of differentiation similar to a Blue Ocean strategy. Your advantage…at least today…is that there are only about 1% of the companies out there that actually go all in and execute this strategy. It’s a “greenfield” of opportunity for those that venture out beyond the normal competitive, commoditized markets.

This is where RISK MANAGEMENT becomes more about CHOICES than MITIGATION. Just trying to get rid of risk may not be (most likely is not) the answer…it may actually hurt your business more than help it. Making calculated choices about pursuing opportunities to leap in front of your competitors represents lower risk than staying the course. Choosing to take on an opportunity, like creating a WOW customer experience, can seem risky because it is different…but can pay incredible dividends back to you when you are completely differentiated in the eyes of your customers.

Making choices that allow you to skate to where the puck is going to be is lower risk today than trying to figure out ways to always know where the puck is and fight it out with your competitors…usually on price, delivery, and terms. This is a losers game today…it is almost impossible to within the commodity game today because there are new entrants coming into everyone’s market that can do what you do faster, cheaper, and at a lower cost. This trend isn’t going away anytime soon. To me, this represents a much higher level of risk that choosing to pursue an opportunity to differentiate.

Creating a Customer Experience that trumps all your competitors isn’t risky…it just takes commitment, time, and consistent effort to bring it to fruition. Which is the reason why your competitors won’t venture into the “unknown”…they are happier knowing where the puck is and slugging it out with each other there. Staying where you are is higher risk than making the choice to venture out into an area that has demonstrated the ability to deliver bigger rewards. CUSTOMER OBSESSION is one of those “calculated risks” that will virtually guarantee not just survival in the future but the opportunity to eclipse your competition.

It’s your choice…manage your risk through seeking high value/low risk opportunities and skating where the puck will be or playing it safe and mitigating all your risks…fighting over every dollar with your competitors by playing where the puck is today. I believe this is a much riskier situation than seeking the opportunity to stand alone in your industry…but it’s a matter of choice and execution, not mitigation.