What does customer focused mean to your company? Passion for helping customers? Serving customers? To improve customer engagement would be our choice. But lots of possible options, aren’t there?
In May 2007, Ranjay Gulati, a Professor of Strategy and Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Silo Busting: How to Execute on the Promise of Customer Focus”.
A timeless theme. His thesis is as true today as it was then — that while many companies claim to be focused on their customers, they are unable to deliver on these promises within their current company culture. The basis for this argument is that companies continue to focus much more on their own needs when compared to customer needs. One way around this issue is by improving consumer engagement.
Gulati identified four values that companies must adopt in order to successfully be customer-focused. These are capability, cooperation, coordination, and connection.
According to Gulati, companies need more “generalists”. These are described as employees who “have experience in several products or services and a deep knowledge of customer needs” as well as having the skill and flexibility to cross organizational boundaries. These people see the big picture and as a result are able to produce tailored solutions that meet customer needs. They are the best consumer engagement types … which is what creates their understanding of consumer needs.
Two different levels to consider here. In the first, each business component needs to cooperate to support each other’s activities to achieve measurable customer satisfaction. In the second, employees who are closest to customers need the authority to make decisions that benefit the customer. Empowerment to act. Both levels are required to ensure the customer always comes first.
Most companies are organized around a specific function, product or geographical location of the business. However, customers don’t think that way. Often the solutions they need do not fit within those boundaries. Gulati suggests that companies need to create functions that break these divisions – or silos – so that the customers obtain the benefit of the entire company.
Gulati’s research encourages collaborating with suppliers and other local businesses. Perhaps a partnership. The rationale is that it supports better solutions for the customer as well as provide cost-cutting opportunities.
Gulati’s four “C‟s” make sense, don’t they? They provide us with critical thinking and ideas that focus on the customer.