The Road to Customer-Focused Results

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Customer-focused initiatives are all about results. While that should be pretty obvious, it doesn't always work that way.

I recently participated in an online group discussion where members asked if anyone had examples of customer feedback programs that contributed positively to the company's financial results. Out of more than two dozen responses, maybe three provided a solid example. Mostly, people shared why this is hard to measure. It was startling that there were so few tangible examples of customer-focused results.

In today's complex corporate environment, it has become very difficult to implement customer-focused initiatives that really pay off. But isn't that what it's all about?

Five Stops on the Road to Results

Many details need to be managed to consistently deliver customer-focused results. There are five areas critical to producing results from customer initiatives.

  • Culture: No one can deny the importance of an organization's culture, perhaps the toughest area to control. The company has to truly believe that customer initiatives are a priority; leadership has to provide resources and support; and the focus on customers must be visible throughout the organization. What's more, there should be clear alignment between how the company prioritizes customer needs and the overall corporate objectives.
  • Strategy: Customer initiatives don't just appear. There needs to be a strategy in place that includes specific goals, a leader with influence, a committed team, a road map, and the authority to make it happen. The customer strategy must have a strong mandate to achieve real results.
  • Intelligence: Probably the most complicated component is developing a system for gathering and distributing the right customer intelligence. This means that to make the most of all the customer information, you have to do more than just listen to customers. You need to predict their moves and anticipate their needs. Companies must be skilled at gathering and analyzing operational data, financial information, behavioral data, survey feedback, service case data, social media, and more. In the end, these insights must be available throughout the company so they are put to use.
  • Action: In any organization, there are countless individuals who should use customer intelligence to improve the decisions they make and the actions they take. They need to be aware of what is available and understand how it can best be leveraged. Strategists need an infrastructure for action that delivers timely customer insights, educates users on the value of those insights, and encourages them to make use of them.
  • Change: Let's say your culture is supportive, has a good strategy in place, and gathers rich customer intelligence, which your people take action on. That's all good, but it still doesn't guarantee success. To generate results, real change has to occur. This means that follow-through takes place to ensure the change is implemented effectively, measured carefully, and constantly modified to optimize its impact.

The Road to Results in Practice

Results come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common—a direct impact on generating more revenue (growth) or improving efficiency (profitability).

Consider the following examples:

  • A manufacturer implemented a program to identify and retain more than $65 million in customer relationships that were considered at risk.
  • A leading sporting goods supplier leveraged customer feedback to earn 10 percent top-line growth immediately after acquiring a company.
  • A provider of technology solutions introduced a program to pinpoint cross-selling opportunities that generated more than $200 million in new revenue.
  • A data storage provider implemented process changes based on customer intelligence to achieve a cost savings of $34 million.
  • A technology leader improved its technical support Web site, making it easier for customers to resolve issues themselves, saving more than $300 million.

These are real examples of companies that have benefited by generating customer-focused results. They've proved that while the road to results can be filled with detours and hazards, the journey is well worth it.

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer intelligence consulting firm. You can read his blog at http://blog.walkerinfo.com/blog/engaging-the-enterprise. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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