NOTE- One may refer customer relationship management section to get more understanding of customer domain.
Demonstration as an individual
- Building strong and sustainable relationship with customers- The relationship will be having aspects of trust and reliability. A strong relationship is an excellent exit barrier for customer retention. This relationship ideally will be beyond the immediate gains you can make out of the customer, but a longer term association which builds greater customer loyalty. Just maintain touch with your customer even if you do not have anything to sell or even if there is no customer issue.
- Prioritizing work as per the customer needs and promises- As an individual, you will organize your schedule and priorities depending upon the promises and timelines you have committed to the customer. For example, if a customer has a major issue and needs your intervention, you may re-prioritize your existing schedule to address that issue. As a rule ‘internal meetings can always be moved for urgent customer meetings’.
- Anticipate customer needs and prepare for it- For example, let’s say that you are an IT services company and your customer plans to expand into new areas. You can anticipate that customer will need local IT support and services in these locations. As you might not be having your own presence in some of those locations, you can identify partners, who can provide the same services on your behalf. This means that, you can approach the customer even before customer comes to you. Customers adore the service providers, who are pro-active.
- Using the knowledge about the customer and the feedback to improve yourself- You should endeavor to understand customer's world and also actively seek feedback. This understanding is not only limited to the customer needs, but also customer's culture, management style, organizational dynamics, power centres etc... Being entrenched in the customer's world is a great exit barrier for customer retention. Secondly, as you take feedback, one must work on it, or else one may loose the credibility. One needs to demonstrate a continuous effort to align oneself to the customer’s expectation.
- Work towards the success of the customer- A customer does not want a product. He wants a solution to achieve his business objective. Therefore, always sell the solution and success to the customer and not the product. One way to do is to understand the perspective of customer's customer.
Demonstrating at the managerial level
- Encourage your team to build customer relationships- This is same as mentioned in the first point of individual level demonstration. As a manager, you will encourage the same behavior from your teams. Some examples are-
- Developing a practice that each of your employees will have non-issue based conversation with the customer at least once a month (say)
- Inviting customer your company events
- Sending value-add information to your customer
- Manage and generate resources to meet customer needs- If a customer comes to you with a need, last answer, you would like to give him is that you do not have readiness or resources to meet that need. While you have to be prudent and realistic in your commitments, you can try your best to deliver. This may mean that you get resources from other teams and use stop-gap methods till you build your own readiness.
- Drive the development or enhancement of product/services, based on customer needs- You need to see that your function or team supports the new or enhanced offerings, based on the customer needs. Product and service does not only mean on what is on sale. This also includes the associated support elements like customer service, timely delivery and reliable maintenance. Some examples are-
- If you are a product manager, you are taking feedback from wide range of customers, internal functions (from sales and customer service..) and market to create or enhance new products
- If you are a sales person, you should be working on sales representation and sales material which truly relate to the customer needs
- If you are a customer service person, your customer service style and responsiveness should be aligned to the kind of queries and issues customer will have.
- Make people accountable for customer’s related performance- Though ‘holding people accountable’ is a wider leadership competency, it has unique challenges for the customer entity. It’s easier to hold people accountable for quantifiable factors like TAT (turn-around times), but difficult for customer satisfaction and customer relationship. There are whole lot of factors which contribute to customer satisfaction, and therefore one cannot hold 'one' person responsible. One way to manage it is the group responsibility. This means that every individual is responsible for maintaining customer relationship and satisfaction. If customer satisfaction improves, all get the credit and if it falls, everyone takes the blame.
- Drive people to seek feedback from the customer- While as an individual, you will be seeking customer feedback for yourself and your function, you should infuse the same spirit to your team as well. One good way is to have a formal feedback process, in which every member of the team gathers and shares the customer feedback for his own work. Alternatively, you can gather the feedback for your team and share it with employees on individual basis.
- Build teams readiness to meet customer needs- Building this capability in the team includes-
- Listening to the customer
- Changing their processes to meet changing customer needs
- Changing their priorities to meeting customer requirements.
- Coach the teams to be customer sensitive- This includes coaching team-
- To understand customer domain
- Understand customer problems and issues, not only related to your services, but on an overall basis
- Customer strategic focus areas
- Needs of the customer's customer
The question is on how to inspire and encourage them to do it. Some tricks can be -
- Being a Role-Model
- Throw-up these questions to your people as you walk around 'what is your customer's vision and mission statement?', ' tell me the name of top 10 customers of your customer?', 'do you know what keeps you customer awake at night?'
- Invite customers to do an open house with your teams
Demonstrating at Strategic Level
- Establishing alliance with key customers- This is more applicable to the corporate customers, whereby you will be identifying the key customers and work towards building strategic partnership. This strategic partnership can include-
- You agreeing to make longer term investments in lieu of an assured business from the customers
- Establishing longer term contracts
- Creating special and customized products for the customer
- Try to work on exclusive tie-ups etc...
Therefore, this leadership behavior will go beyond on what money you made out of the customer, but the longer term customer value you have created.
- Drive the product, sales and operations strategy focused on the customer needs- You simply cannot have a strategy which does not meet or exceed the customer needs. There are two parts to this-
- Actively listening to the customer- First part is to understand on what the customer wants. This includes the expressed as well as unexpressed needs.
- Drive your strategy to meet customer needs- This includes communicating to your function, teams and peers on what the customer needs and driving the change needed to achieve the objective.
- Influencing customer decisions- Does your customer see you as a thought leader? Does your customer come to you when he needs an advice or sound-board an idea? Are you pro-active in terms of taking new ideas to the customer? One needs to be well entrenched with the customer to be influencing his decisions. It’s not only a question of influencing the decision in terms of buying your product, but also in terms of being a thought partner on other areas as well.
- Creates a sense of importance and urgency around meeting customer needs- This is a cultural imperative, which a senior executive must drive. This is achieved mainly by being the role-model yourself.
- Balance customer needs with organization readiness- One has to take a conscious choice that we should make the promise to the customer which we can keep. One needs to drive this mind-set, while not making people too risk averse. Any organization has multiple customers and therefore one will need to ensure that building readiness for one customer is not done at the cost of others. A good leader will know how to make those trade-offs, while driving the best possible solution for the customer.
- Balance between customer and shareholders- A customer is looking for a cheap product, whereas shareholder wants to sell at higher margins. A customer wants premium service at economy rates, and shareholder can give only economy service at economy rates. A leader should be able to create a balance on this conflict so that interest of the customer is served to the extent that it does not hurt the shareholder's interest.
- Build organization structures aligned to customer needs- Does customer understand your organization? Does he find your organization structure easy or difficult to deal with? Does he feel that he is being bounced off from one person to another in you the labyrinth of your organization? Is there a singular relationship person for a customer? ....A good leadership will get you favorable responses to these questions.