Customer focus isn’t that hard!

Since I wrote the other day about Apple, I had a bunch of emails and conversations that seemed like veiled attempts to defend Apple, disguised as a question. They went something like, “Why are you picking on Apple. Nobody does this well. Isn’t it really hard?” To which my answer is yes, it’s hard. It’s really hard. But, it’s not that hard that companies should get a pass. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to work for a company when you are stuck behind policies and procedures that prevent you from helping a customer. And, yet, most firms exist in this state.

And, it’s tempting to point to the Disney’s and USAA’s of the world that do this better than most. But, I found myself in these conversations referencing two much less well known examples.

Lisa Lindstrom, a board member of Avanza Bank in Sweeden presented at Forrester’s Customer Experience EMEA Forum last year and shared a story with the crowd about the Chairman of the bank who hosts a customer event every year, walks amongst the crowd greeting them and listening to their stories, and even gives out business cards with his personal cell phone number on it.

Then, last week at Neolane‘s customer conference in Boston, I saw a great presentation by Robb Barrett of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Robb was engaging and funny. But above all, he was empathetic. He mentioned that at every executive and board meeting, a “customer” or patient is invited to attend. Sometimes it’s a celebrity; sometimes it’s someone sitting in the lobby that gets invited on the fly. The board and the management team ask them questions, find out what it’s like to be a customer, and learn what they could do better.

Later at the bar, I spoke to Robb and he explained that this isn’t a lip service or feel-good initiative. He has seen the chairman of the board change policies with the customer right there in the room. For example, on learning that family members visiting patients hadn’t been able to eat late at night, he called the cafe manager to see if it could be kept open longer and made the decision there and then to do so. It might seem simple, but imagine these kinds of examples replicated multiple times a day, every day. And, not just by the Chairman, but by every employee.

Yes, in these cases it’s a senior executive asking the question and making the decision, but that’s kind of the point. If these actions aren’t taken at the top, how can firms ever expect them to happen lower in the ranks?

And, sure, Apple isn’t the only company that could do this better. Every company could. But, no matter where you sit in the organization, it starts with asking the question of customers. And, caring enough to do something with the answer.

Cheers,

Dave

Comments

  1. Bess Solov says:

    Dave:

    Good luck on this new venture.
    Learning a great deal from your posts.

    Bess

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