Customer Focus is at the core of a well managed company. Sadly many companies fail to serve their customers well. To serve customers, a thorough understanding of what problem you solve for customers is needed. The decisions at many companies, unfortunately, are far removed from this understanding.
It is hard to imagine, as you are forced to wind your way through the processes many companies squeeze you through that they have paid any attention to what it is like to be a customer of their processes. When you see companies that have put some effort into customer focus it is startling how refreshing it is (which is a sad statement for how poorly many companies are doing).
If the decision makers in a company are not experiencing the company’s products and services as a customer would that is a big weakness. You need to correct that or put a great amount of energy into overcoming that problem.
Another critical area of customer focus is to know how your customers use your products. It isn’t enough to know how you want your products to be used. Or to know the problems you intended people to use your products for. You need to know how people are actually using them. You need to know what they love, what they expect, what they hate, and what they wish for. This knowledge can help offset experiencing the products and services yourselves (in some cases getting that experience can be quite difficult – in which case you need to put extra effort into learning the actual experience of your customers).
You cannot rely on what people tell you in surveys. You need to have a deep understanding of customers use of the products. Innovation springs from this deep understanding and your expertise in the practice of delivering services and building products.
One of my favorite improvement tips is to: ask customers what 1 thing could we do better. It is very simple and gives you an easy way to capture what customers really care about. You shouldn’t rely only on this, but it is an extremely powerful tactic to use to aid continual improvement (with customer focus).
One, of many, ways to know if company cares about customer focus is how they handle customer support. Do they outsource support (telephone and email)? That is a bad sign. Do they try to drive down those costs? Another bad sign. Do they have a very solid program to mine the customer experience information they could learn from these encounters? That is a very good sign. And extremely rare. Do they make improvements weekly, monthly, daily based upon feedback from customers calls?
For front line employees, how much emphasis is placed on helping the organization learn from what those employees see customers doing? This is a huge potential source of information. Making effective use of it is often determined by the strength of management system. High turnover makes this hard. It is hard to optimize this with dis-repected employees. If managers are driven by cost reduction pressures instead of optimizing the system this will also make customer focus difficult (reducing waste is good, but cost reduction plans are often extremely poorly conceived – if you care about customer focus).