Companies should not be “customer” focused


Yes, companies should not be “customer” focused first, I strongly challenge them to be “employee” focused instead and then the customer focus will come.

I have been a great proponent of being customer driven, listening to customer’s unmet needs and then creating products that serve those needs. But when it comes to focus for companies, I would be “employee” focused first. Why? Because if you hire the right employees, treat them right, give them the authority and responsibility to do the right thing for the customers, the customer focus will come automatically. The vice versa does not work.

The example I always use when I make this point is that of airlines. They all tout how they care about their customers and guess what – when I get on a plane I meet flight attendants who care less about the customers – why? they are not happy, they are probably worried about making their ends meet because their compensations are being squeezed by the airlines every time they get a chance – all in the name of cost cutting. So do I expect these employees to serve their customers very well so that the airlines can tout great customer service? These days they are even asked to bring their own food and drink on board. Imagine this – what would four to six extra lunch boxes and sodas/water cost to make sure that these flight attendants (whose primary job is to serve and ensure the safety of the passengers) stay hydrated and not hungry? All of this when I have not seen any major cuts in the airline executive compensations that makes these executives start worrying about how they will pay their bills. Who would you rather see motivated to turn the airline around – the executives or the flight attendants and the pilots in whose hands your life depends when you are flying?

Contrast that with companies such as Ritz and Nordstrom – do you think these companies have such high customer ratings by sheer luck – no – they focus on making sure they hire the right employees, develop them, make sure that they are well treated and empowered to make their customers happy. After all, hiring decisions better be the most important decisions you make in your company. Folks, It is all about relationships with people and not products.

10 Responses to Companies should not be “customer” focused

  1. Tim Rueb says:

    I tend to believe the emphasis should be on the competitor first, then the employee, and the customer wins in the end because you either become a leader in our sector or die an industry death because you are not the best at what you do.

  2. gopalshenoy says:

    Tim,
    I would worry about the competitor dead last in the pecking order – yes, worry about the competition, but worry more about your employees and customers first. Just because competition does something does not mean they are doing things right. Ask your customers and empowered employees are the ones who will help you do it.
    Gopal

  3. Tim Rueb says:

    @Gopal – I agree with your point, I don’t mean that everyone should follow their competitors actions, I simply mean that your goal should be to defeat your competitors and by doing so you become the better for it. The employees are very important. The customer wins when they work with the best.

  4. What you are describing in the example of the airlines that are not profitable is what we refer to as being “tuned out.” They are thinking from the inside out verse the market needs in. My experience on a recent US air flight illustrated this. The lunch, we now have to pay for, was being served. I was in row 18 and by the time the lunch cart arrived; only a $5.00 snack was available. It seems the chicken pasta and the sandwich offerings were already taken.

    So I asked the flight attendant how often this occurs…she said every flight! She went on to say how “ I have given up writing to corporate about how angry our frequent fliers are to have to pay for food they do not want, and how we do not seem to have the right mix of food on each flight. I am sure they focus on how not to waste food verse how to serve our customers…I would appreciate you sending in a complaint as they will probably listen to you…”

    Tuned out companies not only have poor shareholder value, lower profits, and lower customer satisfaction scores , but they also have very low morale within their teams and it shows.

    As the flight attendant passed my row, other customers were not as kind expressing their unhappiness. Is it any wonder the morale is low when you are asked to nickel and dime each passenger? The one airline that consistently shows a profit is Southwest.

    Interesting, as I would say their employee morale is the highest, and my satisfaction as a customer is higher. To me, they are Tuned in. They are so Tuned in they even modified their boarding process to improve the overall experience of fliers. When I fly Southwest I expect to have a fun, perky crew who enjoy their jobs.

    When I fly US Air I don’t know what to expect, other than having to pay more.

    When you experience companies like Nordstrom’s, Southwest and others who are Tuned In, you can “feel “the difference in every aspect of the buying and use experience.

    Mark Allen Roberts
    http://www.tunedinblog.com/

  5. gopalshenoy says:

    Excellent points Mark. Cannot agree with you more. BTW, TunedIn is the next book on my reading list, once I wish New Rules of Marketing and PR

  6. subrataalpha says:

    Hi Gopal,
    I just could not agree with you more. The Indian aviation industry, which was largely insulated from high oil prices leading to poor customer focus has also fallen prey to this lately. I wrote a related post on my blog http://subrataalpha.wordpress.com/2008/06/29/lets-drop-the-most-popular-feature/.

    Sincerely
    Subrata

  7. mugunthan9 says:

    Hi Gopal,

    Totally agree with you here but one has to wonder why such common sense is not common.

    I think the state of economy you operate in dictates whether you focus on your employees first or your customers. In a place where unemployment and job opportunities are scarce the norm is customer focus with disregard to employee care as you can make the money without worrying about employee turnover. I guess its human nature to just solve immediate problems instead of foreseeable ones. Disgruntled employees do not make you lose money today as would a disgruntled customer. However, a disgruntled employee never stops advertising just how shoddy your operations are, and when a firm learns about this its reflex reaction is to fire the staff reinforcing its already notorious reputation.

    Paying attention to employees is the fundamental building block for a solid business. There is still much work that needs to be done here.

    Cheers,

    Mugu

  8. The customer is not the focus. The focus is improving the quality of life, righting a wrong or maintaining a high standard. It not only unites your employees, but your customers as well. Everyone knows what your product or service is trying to achieve.

    That’s why Sun Tzu said the most important factor is Moral Law.

  9. Employees ARE customers. ~TC

  10. Dave Brock says:

    Sorry for jumping into this close to a month late. There are a number of research studies that show some connection between Employee Satisfaction and Customer Satisfaction.

    In some sense, employee satisfaction is a leading indicator of potential customer satisfaction issues. You cite good examples that would support this.

    I would tend to agree that both employee and customer focus are important.

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