The term customer focus gained popularity over the course of the last decades but it has got a very different meaning for everyone. People are talking about it or working on it in their corporations for very different reasons and it is not equally important to everyone. For me customer focus is the most important factor in life. It reflects onto everything I do in private and business and it has been a big part of my upbringing. I want to use this post to tell you about why I am so interested in it, what I do about it, and ultimately, I want to add some clarity to the ambiguous term of customer focus. What does it mean to be focused on the customer?
The orientation of an organization toward serving its clients' needs. Having a customer focus is usually a strong contributor to the overall success of a business and involves ensuring that all aspects of the company put its customers' satisfaction first. Also, having a customer focus usually includes maintaining an effective customer relations and service program.
Read more: https://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer-focus.html
As you see, the above definition doesn’t really clarify anything. However, numbers show that customer focus is becoming increasingly important which is mostly due to new market situations. Almost everything we can think of is available. Companies cannot push their products into the market anymore; instead, customers pull/request products and services at their desired level of quality. If a customer is not satisfied with a product or service they simply move on to a different manufacturer. This hasn’t been possible 60 years ago, simply because customers have more information available and it’s easier to receive products and services from anyone, anytime, and anywhere around the world.
But, let’s start at the beginning. I’d really like to talk about myself a little bit in order for you to understand where I am coming from and to add depth to the discussion, which is important in this context. I have been brought up by a single parent, my wonderful mum. At every stage throughout my life she taught me to respect everyone, to always try to understand where people are coming from, to be helpful, and to get an understanding of the bigger picture. Every time I encounter people I try to see the world through their eyes. What do they see, why are they here, why are they happy/angry/hurt/mean? As a child this was incredibly hard to understand because one usually is way more self-centered but over time you get better at it. This goes beyond simply acknowledging someone else’s ideas or presence, this is about creating a better understanding of your own and other’s situations. In this sense, living life will teach you important lessons. It’s widely acknowledge by psychologists that this understanding of a greater picture is gained by going through tough life events. Events like losing people that were close to you, getting your first child, having near-death experiences. Through those experiences we transcend through different stages of consciousness that allow us to see the world from a different point of view that is less self-centered. I’d like to talk more about it but it would take ages. For now, let’s take it back a notch and talk about the impact it has on your business and how my own discovery story put certain business encounters into an “interesting” and new perspective. In total I’d like to talk you through 5 events, bigger and smaller, that happened in my professional and personal life.
1. The following is a general conclusion based on a few things that happened in my early years up until the age of ten. NOTHING and absolutely NOTHING in business is fundamentally important to your life. Only you, yourself, and the people close to you are fundamentally important. Everything else comes second. If you gain that understanding, I promise that this level of maturity makes issues look a lot smaller and, more importantly, manageable. Everything in business can be solved and nothing is fundamental to your life. YOU are in control of it, no matter what.
2. Often, the bigger the organisation the more they are struggling with customer focus and actually caring about them. The following story should make you laugh but also think about whether it could happen in your organisation or not. As a young guy of 16 years I started working for one of the biggest corporations in the world as a technical drafter. One day I needed to call my supervisor but haven’t had the extension so I ended up calling the main reception. When the receptionist, who was wearing a headset, picked up the call I could hear “weird” sounds in the background. I asked him if he was in the restrooms and yes, he was answering the phone while being on the toilet. I could have been a client calling or an investor or a stakeholder. Regardless of the purpose of the call or my own importance for the company, that was my first impression I got of this company. Unfortunately, throughout my time at this company, I came across various situations where I had similar experiences. Now the question is: Why did this happen? Why did he answer the phone like that? Why do people not care? Why do people say they care but move your request to folder b for bin? This is not something we should blame individuals for. This has to do with the culture of the company and the importance it places on customer focus.
3. After three years working in a big corporate I decided to quit and start studying. As part of my studies we developed a complaint management system for a medium sized company in Germany. Back then they haven’t had a feedback system in place at all and if they got feedback, employees were scared of the outcome and tried to hide the results. We established a pro-active system where the company reached out to clients after they have received the product and we also did a lot of work on the company culture. Negative feedback MUST never ever be used to put pressure on certain employees. It MUST become part of the company culture to work through feedback and use it to improve individually and as an organisation.
4. After my studies I joined the most talked about Start-Up in the world as a sales person. If you thought that you were a customer oriented company I challenge you. The importance this company put on customer focus was completely new to me and absolutely extreme. Without going into detail I can say that customer satisfaction was the single very most important KPI for us. We sent surveys to all our customers and even monitored online threads to get feedback that wasn’t directly addressed to us to get an independent view on it. We put maximum importance to the topic and made sure that every feedback was answered in a timely matter. There is always room for improvement and customers appreciate the efforts. That was also the time when I realised that nothing is more important than business. We had a few cases were customers got angry or didn’t receive the service they deserved. I’d like to share one case with you: This customer and business owner had booked a day long test drive, took a day off from work, drove more than 200 km to our store to pick up the car and arrived early in the morning. Unfortunately, we have made a planning mistake and had absolutely no car available from him. You can imagine how angry the customer was. Understandably! It was a major mistake on our side, but it happened. I was the responsible sales advisor at that time and dealt with it. However, I could not change the situation, so I had to send the customer back home after a thirty min test drive with the only car we had available. A week later I rocked up at his house. I drove the car over, and gave it to him for the duration of a weekend. I couldn’t change the situation back in the day but I didn’t freak out and worked on a solution. He appreciated my extra effort, enjoyed the test drive and ended up buying the car. It was extremely uncomfortable when it all happened but he accepted our sincere apology, appreciate how we learned from it and is now an advocate of the brand.
5. Birdee: I am now using my determination, interest and personal understanding of the field to create a start-up around customer focus. Customer focus is so, so important. I see it over and over again how, especially in retail, customers aren’t the number one priority for the retailer. And yes, it is hard to lose sight amid growing costs, fiercer competition, staff turnovers, shifts in management, but if you focus on customers everything else will fall into place. It’s a tough call but a successful business has to make it. It has to make customer focus the single most important factor of the organisation and this has to go beyond a written statement. It has to become a part of the company culture. Seeking active feedback of customers and giving each and every customer the best possible experience is crucial to the success of any company but even more so for retailers, these days. It’s the most effective way to differentiate your store from the others and customers will appreciate your efforts. It’s vital to train staff and actively work on the internal culture. Customer focus is the only real topic that solely works inside out or top-down. If the management, the core of the business, isn’t aligned with that, than it won’t be successful. That is what we work on every single day in our company and what we try to help retailers with. It’s tough but a very rewarding process.
Lastly, I’d like to encourage every single sales person and generally everyone working in a corporation to keep two things in mind.
Firstly, NOTHING is more important than you, yourself, and the people close to you. If you truly understand this perspective you stop being afraid of bad or negative encounters. My advice is to listen to the customers, understand why he/she might be angry, and to acknowledge the situation. Then, be aware that it’s not against you and that the world doesn’t stop spinning. Get your shit together, and find a solution for that customer.
Second, customer focus has to be part of the company culture and has to evolve inside out. It has to be lived by the management and they have to make it the single most important KPI. Research has shown that companies who do that are significantly more successful and everything else will follow.
I hope you enjoyed this post and can take a few things out of it. I’d love to hear your feedback and what you think about it. Please feel free to comment, share, or text me directly.