Creating customer-centric enterprise for global market

HAVING been "out of commission" for a while I find myself facing a mountain of business research. It is an indicator of significance that much of it relates to the very real benefits of creating a truly customer-centric enterprise.

By Professor Tom Lambert Frsa

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Published: Mon 9 Jul 2007, 9:03 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 10:17 PM

Ironically many senior businesspeople repeat slogans such as "the customer is king", yet have not the least intention of designing the business around customer's desires, needs and expectations.

Failure to place the customer at the very centre of the business is eventually the royal road to business collapse. Making the customer feel that he is being treated like a king leads to sustainable prosperity. Fine words still "butter no parsnips".

A world of information

A few years ago in the middle of the 'dot com' debacle some pessimists declared that e-commerce was dead. Having written and published a book called "e-Market Dominance" in 2001 just as pessimism plummeted to new depths my timing could have been better, but in the intervening years sales online have grown massively, are still growing and show absolutely no sign of diminishing. Markets online or off are being dominated increasingly by those that design the business around the worthwhile customer. Buyers increasingly use the opportunities offered by the World Wide Web to access products in a world wide market with little more difficulty than they would find in buying from the local corner shop. The shrewd buyer experiences superior service and considerable cost savings. Even a majority of those customers that choose not to buy online use the Internet to assess both products and suppliers.

The word spreads

At the same time "bloggers" praise or display their disappointment or disgust with services, products and companies and influence many thousands of potential buyers to seek satisfaction elsewhere. The world of purchasing has never been more transparent to buyers. Trust is the mainstay of success. Trust is not easily earned. Once earned, systems need to be in place if it is to be sustained. Customers are won and lost through the quality of service that not only they, but also others — often unknown to them —receive. The customer plays the key role in your business future.

Research

Frederick Reichheld's research proved that better than good customer relationships had wide-ranging results within and beyond the organisation. Making customers central to the business enables higher profits. It goes much further, however. It provides a competitive edge that does not merely attract and retain worthwhile customers — it ensures that the business becomes a magnet for the best employees. Having drawn a superior work team they in turn devote themselves to delivering the best possible services and products at the lowest possible cost which enables the firm to attract, delight and retain investors. The most recent research goes beyond Reichheld and it is affecting the way that companies are organising to do business.

Re-design the business

Major organisations are beginning to redraw the organisation chart to enable them to identify and fulfil current and emerging customer expectations. They plan and re-organise to do this at the lowest possible cost. They are increasingly assigning employees and empowering them to build relationships with customers that go beyond the traditions of "Key Account Management". Smart businesses are creating a desire in customers to identify emerging needs to a "friendly, familiar voice". To keep costs at a minimum firms are beginning to organise the power of their best people to simplify the buying experience linking this with a strong sense of personal responsibility toward the achievement of challenging, measurable and worthwhile company goals. They are building an approach that combines efficiency inside the business with effectiveness in the marketplace.

All of the above is, of course backed by state-of- the-art learning and development at every organisational level which combines teamwork, business management and customer-centricity skills and knowledge.

In a complex business world even the most successful firms do not assume that they can be all things to all men and do everything that will be needed. Many now recognise that alliances can be the most economical approach to meeting changing customer desires.

Recognition

Customers are increasingly information rich and time poor. Third party recognition of excellence in customer care enables them to make an appropriate and confident buying decision without spending time that they think they can ill-afford. An annual survey by the Reputation Institute assesses customer attitudes to suppliers in a way that enables them to publish a listing of the world's most customer-centric companies. An increasing number of wise companies are going beyond simple customer research and are looking to and seeking to change the behaviours of employees and top management. Some, like Merrill Lynch, are combining ancient corporate fiefdoms, like Operations and IT to provide superior customer service.

Who are the current champions?

The list includes businesses from many sectors and many countries. In a short article I can only give you an indication of the wide range of businesses that are consistently delighting customers. After re-organising to make the customer the centre of their activities the toy manufacturer Lego of Denmark holds number one position, one place above IKEA of Sweden (furniture). Other proud holders of "top ten" positions that emphasise the rich mix of sectors and countries in which customer-centric and high performing companies thrive include Barilla (food/Italy), which is at number three, Toyota (automotive/Japan) — number six and Petrobas the Brazilian energy firm that is in eighth place. The highest scoring American firm is in fifteenth place reflecting the growing customer-centricity of world markets. Those that invented the concept are in danger of falling behind as it is pursued with enthusiasm elsewhere.

The take away

In a global marketplace the winners are increasingly finding that designing the organisation to make the customer central to every activity within and beyond the company is paying major dividends. Driven by a clear value proposition and a shared desire at every level to deliver what is promised at lowest possible cost, businesses are increasingly establishing their own way to enjoy the effects of the customer-centric success spiral. Loyal customers deliver growing profits and little, if any hassle which means that dedicated and fully trained workers devote their abilities to delivering customer satisfaction at lower cost. Profits continue to increase and with growing profits investment in the businesses is more secure. Your customers now play an even greater part in your present and future prosperity than in the past. Is your business organised to turn customers into ambassadors or eventually to turn them away?



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