Customer Focus: Making it Happen

Cranfield School of Management

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Customer Focus: Making it happen
By Graham Clark

It seems such a simple equation; good customer service equals good business. And yet this patently isn’t played out in practice, as all of us have experienced. So what does it take to be a customer focused organisation?

For many years I have examined successful customer focused organisations, as well as those organisations that have tried and failed. Although we may have an ambition to be customer focused, putting the customer at the centre of all we do, we tend to concentrate on our own activity rather than customer requirements. There is a tendency to drive for outputs rather than outcomes. In other words, it is common to focus on what we do as an organisation rather than what it means for our customers. The result is that even though our intentions are sound, somehow our practice does not turn out as intended. Another common challenge for customer focus is an emphasis on efficiency or cost reduction. In the process of striving for efficiency it is all too easy to lose the essence of what the customer really wants, rather than what we do for them. In a restaurant, everyone may get fed, but have they had the desired service experience? So how do we put matters right and give customers what they really want?

A lot of customer success is down to consistently hard work; we live in a world that is always looking for the quick fix, the simple panacea that will make it alright for the moment. What we need to do is to go back to basics, defining very clearly what customers really are looking for and what are they buying from us. Sometimes I describe organisations looking through their inside out lens, versus the outside in lens. We are very good at the inside out: "this is what we do, please love us"; rather than the outside in: "this is what you want from us in terms of outcomes, benefits and across-the-total experience". In the process of cost cutting, organisations often lose sight of the essential customer experience component.

However, not every organisation is losing their focus on the customer; so what is it that makes the difference in giving consistently great customer service? Southwest Airlines Is an excellent example. They know that service is all about relationships; successful organisations are removing the barriers to forming strong and enduring relationships throughout their organisation. They work hard all the way through their network of relationships – not just at the end point of contact with customers and those moments of truth. Emphasis needs to be placed all down the chain, making sure that the relationships are working and working well.

My key message is not to rely on one or two service heroes to provide great service-though we need those heroes, people who love the customer to bits and really go the extra mile for them. Great service is service which is delivered consistently through the network of relationships which starts right at the very beginning and all the way to the end. I recommend that organisations map at every point what is happening with the relationships. We used to refer to internal customers in the past, but I believe we should now emphasise relationships throughout the organisation– what do I give, what do I get back, how can we make it better? In this way you will re-evaluate what is working and what is not working, so that you can continue to improve the experience of the customer. It’s good to talk, not just to your customers, but throughout your whole organisation. In this way you are much more likely to retain that valuable and essential component, customer focus.

Graham Clark is Senior Lecturer in Operations Management at Cranfield School of Management.

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