Leaders: Get Your Organization to Put the Customer at the Centre of Your Business

Marketing and sales people have always advocated that the customer should be at the center of the business.

Still, other parts of the organization are holding back. What are the leaders thinking about?

As long ago as 1996 I wrote a paper for a conference in Vienna about the branded customer experience (using solutions focus, naturally).  At the time, I felt slightly prescient. Sixteen years on putting the customer at the center of the business still seems impractical idea to many inside organizations simply because they are not structured to operate that way. This despite the fact that brands like Starbucks did it from 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 and 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

7 thoughts on “Leaders: Get Your Organization to Put the Customer at the Centre of Your Business

  1. michael cardus

    Customer centered is has become a touted value. And once you observe how a organization operates you see it is just not true.
    For example are hospitals in the USA really patient centered? I argue NO..they are a place for the Doctors to practice medicine and work. If they were patient centered they would never force patients to go through all the nonsense they have too.
    This takes a focused approach and many small steps, Alan thank you for clearing the path for the first step.

    1. Alan Kay

      Yes, placing the customer at the centre of the organization isn’t exclusive to for-profit businesses. There’s been work done on the shared patient / doctor decision making in a number of countries. A solution focused consultant – Christine Kuch – has done some notable work with physicians in Germany. Like lots of areas where change is needed the pace will be slow.

  2. Ted Coine

    Brilliant, Alan. My question for EVERY decision contemplated within the organization is, “Who does it serve?”

    * If it serves the customer, do it.
    * If it serves the employee so she is more engaged and thus more valuable to the customer and (thus) to the organization, do it.
    * If it serves anyone else (management, the bureaucracy, stockholders’ short-term gain)? Think long and hard before you do it.

    Business is rarely easy, but done right, it’s extraordinarily simple.

    Great post!

    1. Glasgrp

      Thanks Ted, just found your response – for which I am grateful. I agree with you. I think organizations that get to your #2 position are ahead of the game.

      It’s funny how things work. I did some workshops for a large college last week in Glasgow, (my hometown!). Surprisingly, the student sat scores were high, but the staff sat numbers were lower. Go figure!

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