Businesses are feeling the pressures of a constantly changing marketplace and are experiencing difficulties differentiating their products or services in the intensified competition of this environment. Many companies have lost focus of the reason for their existence in this turbulent environment. Gone are the days of the seller's market, so many companies enjoyed in the decades past. It is important to remember that the fundamental purpose of a business is to make money and survive. It can not do this without it has a customer focus through the entire organization.
Customer Focus is about getting all employees to look at their job through the eyes of the customer. Customer Focus involves continuously listening to the voice of your customers, obtaining their input and feedback and using this information to make changes which add value to your products and services. Customer Focus is about adding value at all levels of your organization.
Begin By Identifying Your Customers
Identifying your customers involved figuring out who your organization's primary customers are and what products or services they use. A customer can be defined as anyone who buys, uses, or adds value to what you provide.
It is important to realize that all organizations have internal and external customers. Internal customers are those who work within your organization receiving partially completed products or services and add value to it. They in turn became suppliers to other customers, often the next step in the operation. External customers on the other hand are typically called "the end users". They purchase the completed product or service.
The emphasis on teams and quality in recent years has focused attention on the internal customer. This has proved to be a powerful tool for improving quality through the organization. It has changed the adversarial relationship that exists between many departments. These departments competed for resources such as budgets and people. As a result they lost sight of the supplier-customer relationship that exist between them.
In many cases, organizations have lost sight of the external customer. They are doing a terrific job serving the internal customer and are dissatisfying the external customer. The shift of customer service jobs to India or the obstacles placed in the way of customers trying to contact the company are prime examples. When people can not get their problems solved, they get frustrated and vote with their feet.
Customers who are dissatisfied will rarely tell you, only about 5% of your customers will tell you if they are unhappy. Customers who are less than satisfied may not be letting you know what they think of your organization, but they are telling other potential customers about their dissatisfaction. In a recent study, it was determined that on the average, these customers will tell 16 other people (this is up from 12 only a decade ago). Satisfied customers on the other hand will only tell an average of 3 people how great your product or service is. Keep in mind that customers who experience dissatisfaction are becoming your competitor's customers.
Many organizations seem to forget when they are determining who their customers are, is that you can not be all things to all people. Customer satisfaction means having the right customers to begin with. There must be a good match between the needs and expectations of the customer and your organizations capabilities and focus.
Building Customer Understanding Is Critical
Once your organization has determined who your customers are or who they should be, it is critical to begin to build your understanding of those customers and what their expectations are. When you make an effort to learn more about your customer's business needs, their goals and objectives, and the pressures and obstacles that they face, you begging to build a relationship of trust with the customer. That trust leads to increased customer loyalty and long term success for your organization.
At first, building such an understanding may seem very difficult. Most customers are very eager to help you build a better understanding of what they do, how they do it, and what their needs are. Start by simply asking questions about their operations and their specific needs. They will be flattered in most cases. Asking questions shows that your organization is interested in what they are doing and that you will work to help them accomplish their goals.
It is just as important for your customers to know more about you. They will be better prepared for seeking your assistance in meeting their needs and solving their problems. Consider the following questions when trying to help your customers know your organization:
- Do they know we exist?
- Do they know our full capabilities?
- What is it that we have that they want or need?
- Are they satisfied with our product or service?
- If they are not satisfied, what can we do to fix the problem?
- What can we do to build a better relationship with them?
- Do they know who to contact?
Clarifying Customer Expectations Saves Headaches
Maintaining a strong customer relationship requires that you manage the customer's expectations. When you understand your customer's expectations, you can build an organization that is able to anticipate what the customer is looking for in your product or service and thenby determine what their future needs might be.
In order to clarify the expectations of your customers, you need to identify your key customers and sit down with them and discuss their requirements. It is critical that you maintain an atmosphere of openness and honesty in matching the expectations of your customers and the capabilities of your organization. When clarifying the expectations of your customers, make sure that you do the following:
- Have two people meet with your customer. It will ensure that you gather more information and it will show the customer that you are serious and consider what they have to say is important.
- Prepare a good set of questions ahead of time. Keep in mind that your customers have a lot of information and your task is to gain access to that information. Questions are the key to that access.
- Get to the specifics. Customers may tend to deal in abstract terms until they get the feel for your line of questioning. Do not waste their time or yours. Ask open ended questions as much as possible.
- Remember to listen. You job is to find out what the customer wants.
- Do not get defensive if you get some negative feedback. You need to know what the customer really feels
- Clarify and confirm your understanding of what was said. Try to use some of the customer's expressions and terms to build a connection. Emphasize key points.
Use Customer Feedback To Improve Performance
The goal meeting with your customer should be to get useful feedback. This is a key factor in determining the value of your organization, your product or services, and your processes, to the customer. You need to know how your customer perceives the work you do. You need to obtain this feedback on a continuous basis because customer perceptions and needs can change very quickly in today's market.
Organizations which filter the customer out of the equation by placing barriers to contact them are in danger of reversing any and all gains that have made in building a customer focused organization. They have also wasted all resources expended on marketing their organization's products and services. A true customer focus requires that you do all you can to improve customer communication. Out sourcing your customer service to India may save money in the short run, but if customers have a hard time understanding the customer service representative or can not get some satisfaction for their problems, it will cost you a lot more in the long run.
Strong customer focus is the glue that holds successful organizations together. It is the fuel for an improved bottom line. Customer Focus is a process that will require the commitment and dedication of every employee in the organization.
Businesses that neglect creating a true customer focus will feel the unnecessary high costs of poor service through the active word of mouth of dissatisfied customers and increasingly advertising and marketing to attract new customers. Short-term savings of poorly conceivable ideas such as outsourcing with out considering the customer impact will evaporate along with the customer base. Customers are the life blood that allows your organization to realize its main goal – make a profit and survive.