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The Essential Core Value: Do All You Can to Make Your Customers Successful!
It's in your best interests to
identify your customers' value chain activities that need improvement,
and it's in your best interest to do what you can to help them resolve
I happened to stumble across a televised business school forum some
time ago. It caught my interest because the dialogue between the
students and the guest CEO generated statements like "Own the
customer!" and "It's cheaper to keep customers than acquire new
ones!" This got me thinking about what questions assertions
like these generate. Questions like:
"How do we keep customers?"
To begin my quest in the attempt to resolve these hard to answer questions, I thought the obvious:
"Do we want to keep all customers?"
"What do we do to 'own a customer'?"
"How do we acquire 'desirable' customers?"
The word successful triggered the following: "How do we help our
customers with their success and does customer centricity have anything
to do with it?" I concluded that it would be, at least, part of
- Businesses want customers who bring them a profit, and
- Businesses want to retain customers who are also profitable and successful.
First, what is customer centricity (or focus)? Paraphrasing most
definitions, customer centric means businesses have developed
company-wide procedures, policies, and activities to ensure they are
constantly learning about each customer's performance needs and
matching them to the business' value propositions and execution
abilities to meet them, resulting in market success for both the
business and its customers.
But to me, it's more than that. It means know your customers' businesses as well as you know your own.
It means making customer centricity one of your company's "core
values," which is the set of persistent principles that drives activity
quality. And, because I believe it's a core value, I strengthen
customer centric to mean doing all the company can to help make its customers' business performance successful!
"Doing all the company can..." means keeping an open mind to building customer benefits by:
Let me put it another way: It's in your best interests to
identify your customers' value chain activities that need improvement,
and it's in your best interest to do what you can to help them resolve
their issues. You don't want these "weak" activities to turn into
"failures" that could affect your business. For example, could a
customer's "failure" to recruit and retain qualified personnel
influence how much business your company does with them? Think
- Learning about everything customers do and need to be successful
- even their business performance activities that do not seem related
to your company's value proposition and execution capabilities - and
mine what you learn for value creation opportunities.
- Similarly, getting an understanding of all the issues that
customers face, regardless of their relationship to your "present" set
of products and services, and explore them for opportunities to develop
Does this mean you help customers with problems and issues that are
both related and unrelated to your products and services? Does it
mean you are obligated to help your customers with problems and issues
with which your company may or may not have competencies to handle?
Getting answers to questions like these creates a "chicken and egg"
scenario. You could say they depend on your strategies,
capabilities, economic position and other factors because the business
would be "stretching" itself beyond its present capabilities.
Then again, your company's strategies, capabilities, and economic
position depend on "stretching" itself - that is, finding improved and
new ways to provide value to customers.
Regardless, your company is dependent on knowing about your customers'
points of success and failure for, at least, the following reasons:
By embracing the core value of "doing all that can be done to make
customers successful" through evaluating for information about their
total business performance, you and your colleagues will start looking
for and finding value opportunities that you never thought you should
or could take advantage of, regardless of your company's present
capabilities or VP offerings.
- First and foremost, it's your business' goal to attract, acquire,
and keep the right customers. Success and failure information
helps your business segment customers.
- To become truly customer centric, you have to have a profound
understanding of your customers' entire business - each individually or
collectively as a market segment. By additionally answering the
question "What are my customer's problems?" you will be able to assess
the potential impact, negative and positive, on your company's value
proposition(s) - VP.
- This knowledge will help you develop the competence you need to
provide useful advice to your customers on a wide range of business
performance issues - from process to tools to management.
- You need to plan your future. Your customer's future helps
predict yours. A customer successfully using your products and
services doesn't necessarily mean a successful customer.
- In order to stay competitive, you have to start focusing on what
you can additionally do (and sometimes, have to do) as opposed to what
you already provide in your company's VP.
- Profoundly understanding your customers' businesses can
open up opportunities to partnership, alliance or collaborative
relationships where they may not have been previously considered.
For example, your company might collaborate with a business that
specializes in human resource management to create industry specific
services for your customers as a group.
For example: Did you ever think of helping your customers with
their recruiting? How about setting up a web page that allows
your customers to access financial management tools that are tailored
to their industry (not necessarily the ones your company uses -
although they could be - but some third party's)? Or, what would
it take to transfer your project management knowledge to your customers
so they take advantage of your experience and don't fall into the same
traps you encountered? If you are unaware that your customers may
have these types of issues, then you probably won't think of possible
solutions that may influence your initiatives.
But to find opportunities and formulate the "right, smart" initiative
decisions, you need to gain knowledge - timely, significant customer knowledge. Once obtained, this knowledge will be used as input to other decision-making activities, such as:
Gaining customer knowledge is most effectively accomplished through
evaluations of some type. When you evaluate your customers for
their business performance information, you will, generally, cover
their Key Success Factors, those business components (product/service
requirements and operations) that drive the value creation process and
define their VPs. Regardless of the evaluation type employed, it
needs to be done regularly.
- Integrating information about technology, markets, people, resources, and more.
- Research into the existing products and services in your
market - yours and your competitor's - and in different industries so
you can add the right benefits to the VP that make overall initiatives
- Brainstorming with colleagues (in and out of the company),
customers, partners, and suppliers. You have to bounce ideas
around if you want to create an innovative and unique VP.
- Communication with all stakeholders mentioned above.
Let all know what your company's strengths are, what you know about the
future, and your business intentions. Find out the same from them.
- Influence analysis to decide who the company and customer
decision makers are and develop the best course of action to influence
them on including and implementing "the right, smart" initiatives
overall strategies require.
- "What if" analysis to test out different VP scenarios for
different customer segments against economic and operational success
for them and your company.
- Risk analysis to figure out what risks exists, not just to
your company but to your customers as well. Identify the "trigger"
events that could cause the risks to become reality and develop
mitigation plans to minimize the impact.
- Benefits and Consequences Evaluation to develop a clear understanding of what will happen by implementing initiatives.
It's important not to evaluate for information that's already part of
your company's regularly scheduled satisfaction surveys, those that ask
customers to tell you how well your company is doing. Customer
surveys like this won't do the trick because they are focused on asking
customers to evaluate your company's benefits and performance, not
You need information that's focused on your customers' businesses. Your company needs knowledge about how customers look at themselves; how they 1) operate their business and 2) respond to their customer's needs - i.e., knowledge about their abilities. Evaluate them on their Key Success Factors not yours.
Build A Permanent Process
Getting your customers to subject themselves to the scrutiny of a
"detailed" evaluation won't be easy due to skepticism about your
motives and their reluctance to share confidential information that
could compromise their competitive position.
You could suggest to your customers that an externally conducted
evaluation would be beneficial because they might be caught up in the
"forest and trees" conundrum, clouding their ability to see issues
clearly. A safe outsider, a supplier with a vested interest in their
success, could more objectively guide the discovery process and learn
new things about their business as well.
But you will get more customer cooperation than you expect if your
"core value" is perceived to be sincere and your resultant actions
support your belief in its validity. Your motives will be defined
by your core value - which is helping your customers become more
Sincerity is helped along by putting a permanent process in place to ensure adherence to this core value. I say permanent because
core values are enduring. This doesn't mean the process can't be
improved or even replaced. But you need a process that defines
the actions that ensure your company's "purpose defined by the value"
is constantly and consistently being achieved, making it part of your
company's culture. "Part of the culture" means that you
believe the process will be supported by personnel - up and down and
across the company - and deliver the intended results, causing it to
become part of your regular business activities.
There is a range of processes that could be used to evaluate your customers:
I prefer a "person to person" process that invites open discussion
between the various customer organizations under evaluation. This
promotes communication between their function or business line groups
(from my experience, this seems to occur too infrequently in companies)
and helps dispel any misconceptions about each group's interpretation
of company strategies and supporting activities. Use the
following steps as a guideline for building such a process:
- From building an "evaluation tool bag" and training customer
contact personnel (sales, marketing, and service representatives) on
how to use it when they "visit" with clients.
- To something as simple as building an evaluation survey to be
"mass mailed," filled out and returned. (I don't recommend
surveys for the following reason: you may not get as a complete and
accurate response since most people won't be "publicly critical" of
themselves or their company to someone they "do not know.")
The straightforward information derived from evaluating KSFs will help
you understand your customers' businesses and help guide your company
into "benefit creation mode." The amount and quality of
information you gather will depend on the KSFs and related criteria you
- Determine customer group characteristics - such as by
profitability, industry focus, or revenue size - and categorize
customers into segments, if necessary.
- Identify company and customer "champions," individuals to cultivate and lead the process.
- Iterating between Steps 3 and 4, develop a framework that
represents the customer's value creation process. Draw value
chain maps to the level of detail sufficient for Step 4.
- Define the business performance components, Key Success Factors
(KSFs), and criteria for your customers, either as individuals, by
customer segments, both, or generically for all customer and market
segments. The KSFs and criteria will describe exactly what
competencies and, once evaluated, their performance levels that
articulate your customer's level of success.
- Formally evaluate KSFs by representatives from individual
customers (possibly include customers' customers) - covering desired
segments - facilitated by a representative of your company, someone who
has no vested interest in the outcome.
- Analyze results and develop value proposition or execution
initiatives. Don't forget to compare findings between customer groups
since initiatives that seem pertinent to only one group may be modified
and used for another.
- Schedule another evaluation that coincides with how fast change occurs in the industry.
By carefully selecting the right ones, you should, for example, find out how well your customers know their customers
or end users. You should learn something about your customers'
skills, processes and tools not to mention their abilities to manage
resources, deliverables and time.
The first evaluation forms a baseline to compare against subsequent
evaluations. As you will see, doing this type of assessment once
is valuable enough, but implementing it on a regular basis will provide
the most value because of the information acquired from comparing
baselines. The evaluations and baseline comparisons can, for
example, help uncover the following:
Needless to say, the categories just mentioned aren't the only ones
your company could use to interpret the information gathered from an
evaluation. Your experiences and intuition will lead you to think
- Change - The only constant in business is change.
This is true for your customers as well as your company.
Comparisons can help identify any changes to your customers, e.g.,
operations, markets and client base.
- Trends - An evaluation, by asking the right questions and
comparing baselines, can help both your company and your customers
identify trends in, e.g., market participants, technology adoption, and
- Customer Critical Issues - Your customers have strategic
directions. Assessments focused on customers' value propositions
and execution abilities will help uncover the critical issues that may
stop their strategies from working.
- "Competitor Driven" Business Environment - Customer
"success and failure" information will help your company and theirs
identify whether they are industry innovators or competitor followers,
the latter being a key indicator of the customer's future
success. Your customers' ability to innovate is as key to their
success as it is to yours.
- Customer's Business Practices - Evaluations help identify
the Key Success Factors that separates the "winning" customers from
less successful ones. This information can be used to develop
initiatives for new or improved processes and performance tools.
- Your Company's Business Practices - Business practices
are, for example, the way your company runs service and product
development operations. Customer evaluations help you find the
challenges to your present practices.
- Custom Value Propositions - Evaluations uncover the
information your company needs to customize your value propositions for
individual customers or market segments, and help identify what needs
to be different for each.
Also, these categories help explain why evaluations are important and
why they need to be done carefully. Failure to gather and
accurately interpret customers' business performance information could
result in failing to include the "right" initiatives in your strategies
which in turn could mean hardship for your company. Remember, the
best way to deal with problems is to recognize and solve them before
The success of your business depends on, to name a few things,
technology, innovation, your skills and the success of your
customers. The success of your customers depends on the
successful implementation of their core competencies at least as well
as your company implements theirs.
Again, it's in your company's best interest to know when and how your
customers' performance will impact your business. If you adopt as
one of your company's operational core values "customer centricity"
that means "doing all you can to make your customers successful" then
you will have less surprises and more loyal customers, not to mention a
hard to duplicate competitive edge.
uses his 30+ years of
experience in business, management, and quality systems to lead
international companies in their search to locate and implement the
ideas that helps craft the business performance needed for the business
results expected. For more information visit www.narduccienterprises.com
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