Why It's So Hard to Focus on Customer Focus

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — With myriad theorems and calculations attempting to tackle the golden equation behind "customer focus," a keynote address here this week at the sixth annual North American Conference on Customer Management at the Disneyland Hotel sought to encourage the crowd of customer service employees to go back to their offices and do some soul-searching.

Michael Zimmer, senior vice president of industry and major account operations at Rochester, N.Y.–based business solutions provider Xerox, said there are three basic questions any company should ask itself when creating a customer-focused organization:

  • Where does caring for the customer rank in our corporate culture?
  • How do we organize around the customer?
  • What measurements should we use to ensure that we are truly delivering a great customer experience?

Recalling his own company's experience, Zimmer admitted that, approximately seven years ago, "Xerox had taken its eyes off of the customer." He then explained that the then-new chief executive officer, Anne Mulcahy, spent her first 90 days traveling to customers to find out what exactly happened.

Mulcahy's findings -- and her subsequent move to assign each of the company's top 100 accounts to a senior account executive who's sole concern was to listen to the customer -- that helped Xerox regain its footing. Xerox also implemented a policy of having one corporate officer each month take every single call coming into the company's main headquarters. That way, the officer can take care of these complaints immediately and, more important, find out what caused these problems to begin with. "We now have a focus on the customer from the boardroom to the mailroom," Zimmer declared. "If this isn't built into every employee, then it's hard to focus.... Buy-in is key."

Zimmer said his second question -- about organizing around the customer -- has a very simple answer: Put the customer in the center. While the answer is simple, he did admit that it goes against years of historical hierarchy. Zimmer recalled that many companies are geographically organized -- either by city, region, or country. Others may be organized by product family or by lines of business. Customers, he said, are not always segmented in this manner. "It's tricky but not trivial," he said. "We must challenge the tradition."

For Xerox, that meant moving executives to different locations based on industry, in order to help fully meet customers' needs. "We had to be willing to take that risk," he said. "Are you ready to put yourself out there?"

Zimmer concluded by talking about the measurements necessary to ensure a truly great customer experience -- metrics that extend far beyond mere satisfaction. He said that in a survey Xerox conducted with its own users, it found consumers were satisfied, but there were still defectors. Fifty percent of defectors, in fact, responded positively to the survey. "That was the one metric that moved us toward customer loyalty," he said.

Zimmer said that it was important to evolve to that level of measurement because it enabled the company to better understand its clientele. The evolutionary process, however, doesn't end there. "We have to continually improve the tools we give our people in order to do their jobs," he said, adding that the alternative meant running the risk of total business failure.

"Organizations that are focused around the customer will have loyalty, growth...and it will be a win-win situation for yourselves and [your users]," Zimmer stressed.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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